Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common occupational illness in Great Britain. They include problems such as low back pain, joint injuries and repetitive strain injuries of various sorts. Back pain affects all industries.
Occupations carrying above average risk of injury are those people working in construction and health and social care.
In 2005/06 an estimated 1,020 000 people in Great Britain suffered from a musculoskeletal disorder which, in their opinion, was caused or made worse by their current or past work. This is equal to 2400 per 100 000 people (2.4%) who have ever worked in Great Britain!
Each year thousands of new cases of musculoskeletal disorders require some level of specialist intervention. It is estimated that 5760 cases were seen for the first time in 2005 by rheumatologists and occupational physicians reporting to the MOSS (Musculoskeletal Occupational Surveillance Scheme) and OPRA (Occupational Physicians Reporting Activity) surveillance schemes.
In 2005/06 it is estimated that 9.5 million working days (full-day equivalent) were lost through musculoskeletal disorders caused or made worse by work.
On average, each person suffering took an estimated 17.3 days off work in that 12 month period. This is equal to an annual loss of 0.41 days per worker.
Around 43% of people (437 000) suffered from a disorder mainly affecting their back, 37%, 374 000 from a disorder mainly affecting their upper limbs or neck, and 20%, 209 000 mainly affecting their lower limbs.
It is estimated that about 40% of all adults have back pain in a single year and about 20% have back pain at any one point in time. A range of studies have concluded that:
1 Back pain is a normal experience common to the majority of adults
2 Episodes and re-occurrences of back pain are normal
3 Symptoms that persist for months are normal
4 Most individuals cope with back pain without seeking treatment.
What can lead to back pain in the workplace?
Back pain can arise in many work situations. The exact cause is often unclear, but back pain is more common in tasks that involve:
heavy manual labour and / or the physical management of patients or clients;
manual handling in awkward places, like delivery work / delivering care in cramped and confined environments;
repetitive tasks, such as bending to address personal care / the manual packing of goods;
sitting at a workstation for a long period of time if the workstation is not correctly arranged or adjusted to fit the person, eg working with computers;
driving long distances or driving over rough ground, particularly if the seat is not, or cannot be, properly adjusted or adequately sprung
Operating heavy or bulkey equipment, such as an excavator or a hoist which can lead to excessive jolting and jarring
Work involving too much bending, reaching or twisting;
Work where force is needed to carry out a task;
Physical activities that can aggravate back pain, or at least be more difficult when you have back pain include:
stooping, bending over or crouching, including work at personal computers (poor posture);
lifting objects which are too heavy or bulky, carrying objects awkwardly;
pushing, pulling or dragging excessive loads;
working beyond normal abilities and limits, and when physically overtired;
using poor lifting / handling techniques (or where you are unable to use lifting aids due to the working environment);
stretching, twisting and reaching;
prolonged periods in one position, leading to postural strain;
situations where the whole body is subjected to vibration, jolting and jarring.
As with many ill health conditions, some people are more likely to get back pain than others.