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Strains and sprains
Understanding musculoskeletal disorders

What are the symptoms of MSDs?

What causes MSDs?

What are some common types of MSD?

How can MSDs be prevented?

How are MSD symptoms treated?

If you have chronic pain in your wrists, arms, neck, back, legs or feet, you may be suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). MSDs include a group of conditions that involve the nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting structures of the body. They represent a wide variety of disorders and may produce symptoms that range from mild and occasional to severe and disabling.

You may hear MSDs referred to by many different names, including:

repetitive strain injuries
repetitive motion injuries
cumulative trauma disorders
overuse syndrome
soft tissue disorders

MSDs develop gradually, over an extended period of time, and the effects can be long-lasting. Men and women are equally affected by MSDs, although there indications that the number of women affected by these injuries is rising.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) result from or may be made worse by the work environment. WMSDs are a leading cause of medical problems and loss of productivity in the workplace.

What are the symptoms of MSDs?
swelling, inflammation
numbness or tingling sensation
clumsiness or decreased movement of a joint
stiffness of body part
symptoms worsen with time

What causes MSDs?
repetition or rapid movement – repeated rapid motions of a body part
forceful movement or exertion – lifting, pushing or pulling heavy loads
contact stress – repeated contact with the sharp edges of tools or work stations
awkward posture – maintaining awkward or unusual body positions for a long time
static posture – standing still or holding parts of the body in one position for a long time
heat, cold and vibration can also contribute to the development of a MSD

Any type of work or activity that forces the body into an unnatural position can lead to a musculoskeletal disorder. MSDs are most often linked to:

specific types of work
improperly designed work stations
using the wrong type of tools for the individual or the task
lack of variety in job activities

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What are some common types of MSDs?
carpal tunnel syndrome
“tennis elbow” or “golfer’s elbow”
degenerative disc disease
herniated disc
chronic back pain
ganglion cysts
shoulder and neck strain

How can MSDs be prevented?
Take regular breaks – If you’re doing tasks that require repetitive movements, take breaks every 15 or 20 minutes and do some stretching to ease the strain on your muscles and tendons.
Vary your activities – Alternate your job tasks to reduce repetitive movements and vary the muscles you’re using in your work. If your job is sedentary, try alternating sitting and standing whenever possible.
Set up your workstation properly – Ensure that your workstation is set up ergonomically to avoid repetitive or awkward movements.
Use the right tools – Use tools and equipment that are appropriate for your body size and for the task you’re doing. Remember to hold your tools with a relaxed grip to avoid straining your muscles.
Decrease excessive force when working – Avoid typing forcefully and use a dolly to move heavy items.
Maintain proper posture – Using good posture while you work can help prevent back injury and reduce the risk of shoulder and neck strain.
Stay fit and healthy – A nutritious diet, muscle flexibility, endurance and strength can help your body absorb repetitive strain.

How are MSD symptoms treated?
If symptoms are mild or moderate, MSDs can usually be treated with exercise, rest, splinting the affected area and modification of daily activities and work station setup. However, if symptoms persist, you may need physical therapy, treatment with anti-inflammatory medication or even surgery. The effectiveness of MSD treatments can vary widely – what works for one person may not work for someone else.

If you start to experience MSD symptoms, it’s always best to take action early and talk to your doctor, so that you can avoid more serious complications.

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Hand exercises

The following exercises should be done daily to help strengthen wrist and hand muscles and relieve strain caused by tasks requiring repetitive motions.

Wrist rotation

Make a fist and rotate your entire hand (from the wrist) in one direction. Repeat 15 times. Switch directions and repeat 15 times. Then, release your hands, and with fingers extended, do the same rotations.

Hand stretch

Make a fist, then extend your fingers as far apart as possible. Hold for about 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat the entire sequence 5-10 times until hands and fingers feel relaxed.

Wrist aching? Fingers numb? Grip slipping?

You could have carpal tunnel syndrome.

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