What is MSK?
Musculoskeletal (MSK) issues include lower back pain and although that may not be everybody’s idea of a serious injury, that in combination with muscle pain and joint pain, makes it one of the most common causes of long-term absence for modern employees. It can also be a real headache for UK employers looking to safeguard their profits and productivity.
Every year, thousands of workers are affected by musculoskeletal (MSK) problems – from general aches and pains to serious long-term conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. And while not all ailments are easily prevented, early intervention can make an enormous difference to the end-outcomes. So if you want to support your team and your business, it’s worth putting a few preventative measures in place.
1. Introduce regular workplace assessments
It isn’t just manual workers who experience MSK problems. In reality, office-based employees can face equal or greater MSK health risks from sitting at their desk for too long or carrying out repetitive tasks such as typing – this is why it’s important to check that workstations are set up properly.
If you don’t have an occupational health department to support you with your assessments, there is plenty of information online to point you in the right direction (see links below). And if you actively involve your employees in the process, you might find that you’re able to rectify problems that you didn’t even know existed.
2. Encourage regular exercise
The thought of exercising with existing aches and pains can sometimes feel a little counter-intuitive. But as well as helping your employees to avoid future MSK conditions, it can be one of the best remedies for ongoing problems. When approached in the right way, yoga, pilates and regular gym routines can all help to strengthen muscles and joints. Plus they are generally accessible to employees of all abilities and all ages.
By encouraging your team to get active, you can help to reduce the number of MSK cases and improve their general wellbeing at the same time. If budget allows, you might even want to consider discounted gym membership or on-site yoga classes – before or after work.
3. Endorse good habits
Too many MSK issues get overlooked because people think that their aches and pains are all part and parcel of getting older. And yet, in many cases, they are simply down to bad posture and bad habits – especially at work.
By encouraging a few behavioural changes, you can help your employees to protect their muscles and joints, and avoid minor niggles turning into long-term complaints. Reminding them to stretch and take regular breaks is a prime example. Even if it only gets them up for a quick drink and a chat, it can make a positive difference.
Depending on the nature of your business, you might also want to offer your employees guidance on the best way to lift and carry heavier objects. Or better still, provide appropriate tools and equipment, such as trolleys, pallet trucks and roll cages. While regular movement is one of the best ways to avoid long-term MSK problems, the wrong movements are only going to make the situation worse.
4. Establish a flexible working environment
It isn’t just sitting at a desk all day that causes muscle pain and joint pain. In many cases, the commute to and from work is even worse. Spending endless hours in traffic jams can leave your employees feeling mentally drained and physically contorted, which is an MSK problem waiting to happen.
As long as it doesn’t disrupt your business commitments, flexible working is a great solution. Small adjustments, like allowing employees to start and finish earlier (or later), can help your employees to avoid the rush-hour traffic. If this isn’t an option, maybe they could work from home on certain days, or even from another site. Not only is less car time better for muscles and joints, a change of scene is also good for mental stimulation and productivity.
5. Create a healthy culture
One of the biggest problems with MSK conditions, is that they are often trivialised as minor ailments. A pulled muscle or touch of joint pain might receive the odd sympathetic comment, but unless it develops into something more serious, it rarely gets the attention it deserves.
By helping your employees to recognise MSK symptoms early and get treated quickly, you could save them a great deal of discomfort and time off work further down the line. So rather than commending your team for soldiering on, encourage them to see a doctor or book a physio session at the first sign of trouble.
Choosing the right Private Medical Insurance (PMI) plan can also help. Look out for schemes that promote early intervention or if you’re worried about budget, consider alternative options such as health cash plans that include everyday physiotherapy costs.
This article has been written in collaboration with Bupa, one of Elect’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future