What is an MSD?

Computer worker wearing a neck brace
Computer worker wearing a neck brace. Andreas Schlege/Getty Images

What is an MSD?

MSD is an acronym that stands for musculoskeletal disorder.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a musculoskeletal disorder (also known as MSD) is one that affects nerves, muscles and tendons.  OSHA also says that MSDs are one of the main causes of lost work time, work place injuries and work place illnesses.

Impact of MSDs in U.S. Workplaces

OSHA says in 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that industries with the highest MSD rates include health care, transportation and warehousing, retail and wholesale trade and construction.

 They also said that 387,820 MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases in that same year.

MSDs - Risk Factor "Exposure"

You are said to be "exposed" to risk factors for work related musculoskeletal disorders when your job requires you to list heavy items, bend, reach overhead, push or pull heavy loads, do things repetitively (as in data entry type jobs,) and/or working for sustained periods of time in a non-neutral (aka "awkward") body position.

Not only may these risk factors affect your neck or back, but they may damage other joints in your body, as well.  Here is a list of spine-related MSDs:


MSD Hazards

An MSD hazard refers to work-related risk factors (exposures) that cause symptoms requiring restriction of work duties and/or medical treatment beyond first aid.

OSHA recognizes at least 6 work-related risk factors for an MSD: Force, contact stress, non-neutral (awkward) positions or posture, vibration, cold temperatures, and repetition. If you experience more than one of these, you have a much higher likelihood of getting an MSD. For a list of symptoms associated with a specific MSD, click on the link to the individual MSD in the above list.

Neck and Back MSDs

Most back MSDs are caused by posture and non-neutral positions, and force. Low back strain from lifting heavy items while twisting is an example.

Most neck MSDs are caused by non-neutral positions and posture, such as when you hold your phone between your ear and your shoulder by tilting your head.



What Should You do if You get An MSD At Work?

The good news is that work-related MSDs can be prevented, according to OSHA.  By applying the principles of ergonomics, which is about fitting the job to the worker (rather than the other way around), you may be able to avoid or minimize muscle fatigue and reduce both the number and the severity of work related MSD's, they say.

Work-related MSDs that require medical treatment beyond first aid, assignment to a light-duty job, or that cause MSD-related symptoms lasting a week or longer, are called MSD incidents. If you have an MSD incident, you should report it to your employer.

Employers are required by law to take your report seriously, and to not seek retribution because you spoke up.



Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace. Ergonomics. OSHA.gov website. Accessed Jan 2016.

Ergonomics Program. Proposed Rules. Federal Register #64:65768-66078 Standard # 1910. November 23 1999

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