How Ergonomics Can Prevent Muscoskeletal Disorders

Given the increasingly sedentary working styles of modern day executives, muscoskeletal disorders are rapidly becoming a cause for concern. Computer technology has revolutionized workplaces but has introduced a host of health issues that require a closer look.

Work related muscoskeletal disorders are associated with painful diseases that affect your nerves, muscles and tendons due to constantly holding awkward postures or performing physical activities that are repetitive in nature.

In recent times, there are has been a marked increase in muscoskeletal disorders as a direct consequence of the increase in the use of computer technology in workplace environments.

The primary cause of muscoskeletal disorders at the workplace is due to the fact that a set of supporting structures in your body does much more work than they are supposed to do.


Key features of Work related Muscoskeletal disorders

•    Tendonitiscarpal tunnel syndrome and neck pains are examples of WMSDs. Your ligaments, spinal disks and joints are also at risk from work related muscoskeletal disorders

•    Such disorders cannot be attributed to a sudden accident or injury. The symptoms are likely to develop over a period of time in a gradual manner

•    Work related muscoskeletal disorders are typically identified by their location (for example neck or back pain) or by the symptoms (for example, inflammation of a joint)

•    Signs and symptoms of WMSDs intensify over time to range from mild to moderate and finally to chronic

•    Signs can include aches and pains, a feeling of numbness in certain limbs and fatigue. Work performance almost always shows a steady downward spiral over time, if the symptoms are left untreated.

•    The symptoms vary from one individual to another depending on personal health status as well as nature of the job

There are numerous risk factors that add to the likelihood of developing work related muscoskeletal disorders.

These factors are not considered harmful by themselves but they can become potentially dangerous with a continuous repetitive pattern.

Hazardous work patterns include:

•    Bending and twisting repeatedly (affect the back, neck and shoulder). For example, you may be frequently twisting to get papers out of a printer that is placed somewhere behind you
It is common to find workers working on more than two computers at their desks and frequently turning around to read the screen.

•    Repetition of a physical action frequently: If you have to reach over your desk to get at your mouse, you probably have to perform this action at least 20 times a day and end up stressing your shoulders, neck as well as fingers in the process

•    Working for long stretches without taking breaks: This is one of the most common causes of WMSDs. Employees tend to sit for long periods at their workstations without remembering to take a break until lunchtime comes around

•    Adopting an incorrect or stressful working position during working hours. A constrained or fixed body posture contributes significantly to development of WMSDs

•    Fast paced work patterns that do not allow for adequate recovery time for muscles and tendons between repetitions.

WMSDs are on the increase and result in significant losses in productivityprofits and most importantly lead to painful human suffering.

Since computers are here to stay forever, a solution that aims to resolve WMSDs must be able to modify the work environment to a greater degree of comfort so as to reduce the possibility of developing WRMDs.

How ergonomics can help reduce work related muscoskeletal disorders

Ergonomics goes a long way in minimizing workplace related injuries, accidents and stress by designing the workplace equipment and tools to suit the employees.

A significant amount of time and money is lost due to muscoskeletal disorders developing from workplace related stress. The first step lies in understanding the causes of WMSDs

•    Applying ergonomics tools and techniques is an excellent solution for muscoskeletal problems

•    Ergonomics can be applied to a number of factors at the workplace such as lighting (making brighter, dimmer or positioning of lights), deskschairs and computer equipment. 

•    Using ergonomics to reduce workplace related muscoskeletal disorders can result in increase of comfort to workers as well as cut down compensation bills for the employer

Ergonomics has several benefits to offer:

•    It improves workplace comfort and aesthetics and makes it safer for employees to work

•    The improved tools and equipment makes it possible for sick or injured to consider returning to their workplace

•    An ergonomically designed workplace helps maintain the health and safety of the workers thus minimizing employee turnover

How to Apply Ergonomics in the Workplace

Computers are now indispensable across a wide variety of industries from pizza places to steel manufacturing. It is possible to reduce the likelihood of developing MSDs in any workplace environment by systematically applying the principles of ergonomics.

•    Establishing effective ergonomics in the workplace requires a detailed analysis of the factors that need redesigning or repositioning.

•    Senior management needs to provide a serious level of commitment to implementing ergonomics

•    Ergonomics is a participatory intervention; translated this means that workers and management work together to arrive at solutions to improve the workplace environment

Ergonomically designed workplace equipment that help reduce MSDs


Ergonomic height adjustable office desk

Modern desks are designed to be comfortable for the user. Desks are one of the most common equipment used in workplace environments.

•    Ergonomically contoured desks can be adjusted to the desired height and angle so as to avoid developing back or neck aches

•    Adjustable desks can be used by employees of varying physical characteristics as they can adjust the height to what feels comfortable for themselves

•    You can manipulate the keyboard shelf as well as the monitor shelf to be so placed as to allow you to work in a natural, unconfined position

•    There is typically some space at the bottom so that your feet are not restricted in movement. You can stretch your legs comfortably under the desk

•    The optimum recommended height for ergonomically designed desks is 24 to 27 inches high. Any height lower than this would result in a clumsy fit between the armrests of your chair and the desk

•    The surface of the desk should sport a dull finish in order to minimize reflection from the lights or the windows


Ergonomic office chair

Well-designed chairs can make all the difference between feeling fatigued and feeling rested.

Employees spend most of their time at work seated in their chairs so it’s important that chairs must be comfortable and designed to support your body structure the right way.

Here are some key features of ergonomically designed chairs:

•    The seat of the chair should ideally be placed between 16 to 21 inches above floor level.

This is the perfect height for users of all heights where your thighs rest horizontally, you can place your feet on the floor and you can rest your hands on your desk comfortably.

•    The chair should have a width ranging between 17 to 20 inches to allow comfortable sitting position plus a depth (the distance from the front of the chair to the back) that enables the user to sit back completely with his back resting against the back of the chair.

•    The height, width and depth should be ideally adjustable to help the worker get the best fit for his unique body requirements

•    A well-designed chair will allow the employee at least a gap of 2 to 4 inches between the back of his knees and the legs of the chair

•    The chair must also be able to offer adjustable forward and backward tilt for maximum comfort and support coupled by locking mechanisms that prevent the chair angle from tilting too far back or too far in front

•    Chairs must be able to offer a consistent support to the lumbar region or the back region to reduce the occurrence of backaches.

•    The seat of the chair should be made of fabric-covered material to make extended sitting periods as comfortable as possible

Computer workstations

•    Invest in padded wrist rests to prevent wrist pain and soreness that accompanies long hours of typing on a computer screen.

Many modern keyboards and mouse controls come with their own attached wrist rests

•    Monitor filters can minimize eye strain by toning down the glare and artificial brightness of the electronically lit screen.

•    Ergonomic monitors can also be adjusted to an angle that is comfortable to the user.

The rule of thumb is to tilt the top of the monitor slightly more than the bottom so that you can read the text in line with your natural line of vision.

•    Horizontal movement of the computer monitor or swiveling also helps the user read the screen without straining his eyes


By using an ergonomic footrest, employees can protect their bodies from the assault of muscoskeletal disorders.

•    The lack of a good footrest can result in reduced blood flow to the knees leading to pain. You are also exposed to the risk of developing varicose veins in your feet

•    Ergonomic footrests come equipped with adjustable angle and height features to suit users with different heights

•    Modern footrests also offer rollers to help massage the feet to improve circulation and prevent tightness of the foot muscles

•    Foam toppers are added to able to warm the foot at periodic intervals to offer heating to the foot area

•    A gel like covering is able to cushion the soles of the feet offering greater protection from muscoskeletal numbness and pain

By minimizing forearm movement, reducing the strain on the back muscles and taking away the stress from the wrist areas, ergonomics can prevent the occurrence of muscoskeletal disorders.

Well-designed workplace equipment and tools can neutralize the impact of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) and muscoskeletal disorders leading to improved health and well-being of employees.