How to: Prevent & ease musculoskeletal disorders in the work place

Focusing on getting the ergonomics right in the office, this simple 3 step plan will help you understand and prevent the causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders.

What causes Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)?

Musculoskeletal disorders are caused by the effects of stress placed on your joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and spinal disks. The symptoms don’t necessarily come together but can have numerous negative effects to your daily routine.

No matter how physically demanding a job is, there is always a risk of developing MSDs. They are the most common occupational health risk and one of the top causes of long term absenteeism in the EU, costing employers and the NHS millions.

The best known factors to cause or aggravate MSDs within a work place are:

  • Awkward, deviated or static postures
  • Vibration
  • Environmental factors such as excessive heat or cold, artificial lighting
  • Contact stress or pressure
  • Excessive force
  • Repetitive movements

Step 1: Get the ergonomics right

Especially for office-based employees, small changes in the way your office furniture is laid out or designed can make a huge difference to the most common MSDs – pain or stiffness in the neck, shoulders, wrists, lower and upper back, arms and even eye strain.

The ergonomics of your desk can relieve many stresses and prevent repetitiveness when using your computer. The most effective ergonomic changes to make are:

  • Move your desk away from the line of any strong artificial lighting, air conditioning or loud noise. You’ll relieve the symptoms and reduce the strain on your body.
  • Ensuring that your chair supports your back at a 90 to 110 degree angle prevents slouching and causes you to rest your feet on the ground. This can help with both upper and lower back pain by guiding your muscles to hold you straight.
  • Adjust your chair height to allow you to rest your arms on your desk so they run parallel to the floor. Any higher or lower can aggravate shoulder, neck, wrist and arm muscles and joints especially when using a computer keyboard.
  • Having a seating position where your knees are below your hips will alleviate lower back pain.
  • Your keyboard should be placed close enough to you so that your back may rest flat against the back of your chair. Reaching too far will distort your posture and put pressure on your wrists to type.
  • Your monitor should be placed directly in front of you at an appropriate height to stop you having to look up or down. Having to strain forward, up or down can distort your posture and strain your eyes.
  • All objects that you use daily should be placed within reach when sitting down. This alleviates the need to stretch or move much which can help with lower back pain.
  • In addition to these positioning changes, many specially designed computer ware and office furniture can be purchased such as mouse mats with wrist rests, posture enhancing desk chairs, keyboard wrist rests and monitor glare protectors.

Step 2: Exercise and stretching to relieve the symptoms

When suffering from MSDs, gentle physical exercise to stretch your muscles and ease joint pain can strengthen and limber both whilst temporarily relieving the pain – if done correctly. Perform these a few times a day or when you feel the need to stretch. Employees should be encouraged to take a short break regularly to get on their feet and move about or do some basic stretches. For example, see Posturite instructions for stretches and useful tips.

Step 3: Senior management buy-in

Managers need to see the importance of preventing and managing MSDs. Without senior management buy-in, companies will see MSDs increase their sickness absence levels, especially as the population ages. Appropriate equipment, ergonomics and promoting physical fitness will help keep employees healthier, more productive and at work.


Honeydew Health can help you identify the musculoskeletal health risks at your workplace and help you put in place preventative measures. For more information, get in touch here.