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What you need to know about MSDs

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Work-related musculoskeletal disorders – also referred to as repetitive motion or repetitive strain injuries – are a group of painful conditions that affect the muscles, tendons and nerves. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, workers can develop an MSD from bending, gripping, straightening, holding, twisting, or reaching with their arms and hands.

“These common movements are not particularly harmful in the ordinary activities of daily life,” CCOHS states. “What makes them hazardous in work situations is the continual repetition, often in a forceful manner, and, most of all, the speed of the movements and the lack of time for recovery between them. Other contributing factors for MSDs include heat, cold and vibration; working in constrained positions; repetition of movements, particularly on one small part of the body, such as a hand or wrist; and working too fast without taking time to recover between movements.

Know the symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom of a work-related MSD. Stiff joints, tight muscles, and redness and swelling of the injured area also may occur, as well as a feeling of “pins and needles.” CCOHS notes that MSDs tend to occur in stages:

Early: An employee’s affected limb or body part may feel tired and achy during the work shift, but fine at night or on days off. The worker will not experience a reduction in work performance.

Middle: The worker’s aching pain and tiredness will start early in his or her shift and persist at night. A reduced capacity for repetitive work likely will occur.

Late: The worker will be tired, weak and achy even when at rest, and may have trouble sleeping or performing light duties.

Not all workers will experience these stages in the same way. However, the earlier a worker recognizes a problem, the quicker he or she should report it and seek treatment.

Treatment options

CCOHS recommends the following treatment options:

Restrict movement: Avoid the activities and tasks that cause the injury. This may involve work restrictions.

Use heat and cold: Cold reduces pain and swelling and is recommended for injuries and inflammations (tissues that are swollen, red, hot and inflamed), CCOHS states. Heat is recommended for muscle pain relief.

Work out: Stretching may be beneficial for some workers, as it promotes circulation and reduces muscle tension. However, check with a medical professional before starting an exercise regime.

Explore medications and surgery: Anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce pain and inflammation, CCOHS notes, but a doctor “may try more elaborate treatments or even surgery if all other approaches fail.”

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