European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

What are MSDs?

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is an umbrella term for dozens of medical conditions related among other causes to poor work postures, excessive strain, repetitive movements, handling of heavy loads, use of vibrating tools or work in cold.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is an umbrella term for dozens of medical conditions related among other causes to poor work postures, excessive strain, repetitive movements, handling of heavy loads, use of vibrating tools or work in cold.

MSDs affect all joints of the body, notably the upper limbs (shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger), lower limbs (knee, ankle, foot) and the spine, causing pain and discomfort in daily movements which can be seriously debilitating, even preventing sufferers from performing a movement that may cost them their job.

The most common work-related MSD is carpal tunnel syndrome, a compression of the median nerve at the base of the palm. It causes tingling and numbness of the hand and fingers, severe pain and may require surgery to regain use of the hand.

MSDs are often associated with activities found in agriculture and industry (packaging, assembly, installation): food processing, clothing manufacture, footwear, manufacture of electrical and electronic products, carmaking - all industries where repetitive manual work is particularly prevalent. But the problem has also appeared in other hitherto relatively unaffected areas like service jobs and office work.

As well as physical stresses, psychosocial factors and work organization also play a role in the development of MSDs. The work environment and quality of relations with co-workers and superiors, working hours, insufficient breaks, so-called “lean” production methods, “quality standards”, work equipment unsuited to users are just some of the things that contribute to the development of MSDs in workers.