Musculoskeletal disorders affect all occupations

Low back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis… Musculoskeletal disorders represent the major part of occupational diseases recognized by the Social Security.

Sometimes work is not about health! In the professional world, we hear more and more about musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs, which affect joints, tendons, nerves and muscles. The upper limbs are the first to be affected, but the entire musculoskeletal system is likely to be affected by these various pathologies.

First transitory, they can become irreversible and disabling if neglected. In 2015, they accounted for 87% of occupational diseases recognised by the general social security system.

Low back pain and neck pain; carpal tunnel syndrome that paralyses the wrist; tendonitis of the elbow and shoulder; inflammation of the bursa serosa (hygroma) of the knee… Some injuries may be specific to certain occupations. Hygroma thus affects plumbers and tilesetters who work on their knees. Elbow and shoulder tendonitis affect employees who perform repetitive arm movements such as cashiers or production line workers. But in fact, “all sectors of activity are affected,” explains Laurent Kérangueven, an ergonomist who is an expert in consulting assistance in MSD prevention at the INRS (Institut national de recherche et de sécurité).

All affected trades

“Sitting in front of a screen for a long time causes a weak but continuous mobilization of muscle fibers, which is not without consequence either.”

Laurent Kerangueven, ergonome

Many cases are recorded in the agri-food sector (especially meat); in metallurgy and car manufacturing; in construction, public works and cleaning. But also – and we are beginning to realize this – in the professions of personal care and assistance. At home or in an institution, caregivers and auxiliaries perform repeated handling procedures on a daily basis, carrying people, causing fatigue and back pain.

When MSDs result from heavy physical exertion, repetitive gestures and extreme postures that create strong joint constraints (working with arms raised above the shoulders, for example), we speak of pathologies related to hypersolicitation of the musculoskeletal system.

“But MSDs can also result from a lack of solicitation,” says Laurent Kerangueven. Sitting in front of a screen for a long time causes a weak but continuous mobilization of muscle fibers, which is also not without consequence.”

Risk of chronic pain

However, biomechanical constraints are not the only cause. The psycho-social context of professional practice can increase the risk of MSDs. An excessive workload, an excessive pace and insufficient recovery time, the lack of room for manoeuvre in the organization of one’s activity, poor social support from the hierarchy or colleagues… all this can be stressful. However, it amplifies the perception of pain and makes the employee more sensitive to other risk factors. It induces constant muscle tension that aggravates the impact of biomechanical factors and causes inflammation. Pain can thus become chronic.

The management and prevention of MSDs cannot therefore be limited to the physical layout of the workstation and work rhythm. Improving the ergonomics of the gesture, reducing noise, adapting light are not enough if we do not also act on the organizational and human dimension of the activity. To meditate on. Because if MSDs are a painful handicap for those who suffer them, they also represent an issue for the company. Main cause of work stoppage, with all that this implies in terms of organization and productivity, but also in terms of loss of skills, MSDs caused the loss of 10 million working days in 2012.