Work-related musculoskeletal disorders on the rise

Workers undertaking repetitive movements and standing for prolonged periods of time experience the highest incidences of back pain, according to a recent survey.

It found that those most at risk of musculoskeletal disorders and low back pain include those who do strenuous physical work including lifting and repetitive actions such as bending, squatting or standing for extended periods.

Furthermore, inactive Australians who don’t exercise and spend long hours sitting at work or at home are also at risk of developing musculoskeletal problems that can impact their quality of life and overall health and wellbeing.

The survey of more than 1000 workers found the dominant three musculoskeletal disorders impacting Australians were low back pain (81 per cent), neck pain (68 per cent) and mid back pain (66 per cent).

A further 75 per cent aged 18-60 within the peak working age reported back pain, with 18 per cent of MSDs requiring workers’ compensation.

The survey, which was conducted by research firm Pureprofile for the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA) for spinal health week recently, found that more than 98 per cent experienced a back-related musculoskeletal disorder in the past 12 months.

“Currently the annual cost of musculoskeletal disorders to the Australian economy exceeds $55.1 billion in direct health costs, lost productivity, reduced quality of life and increased disability,” said Dr David Cahill, President of the ACA.

“With growth in musculoskeletal disorder cases projected to be 43 per cent over the next two decades, the burden of musculoskeletal disorders and back pain on Australians and our economy is and will continue to be a substantial liability.”

With the survey showing 97 per cent of 61 to 70-year-olds and 87 per cent of 71-plus-year-olds reporting a musculoskeletal disorder, older Australians are at greater risk of disability as they’re more likely to develop chronic low back pain, which if left untreated, can lead to loss of physical and mental capacity and restricted mobility limiting participation in society with psychosocial impacts.

Dr Cahill also drew attention to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) analysis that musculoskeletal disorders account for the greatest proportion of persistent pain conditions and are the second largest contributor to disability worldwide, with low back pain the single leading cause of disability globally.

According to the WHO, musculoskeletal conditions significantly limit mobility and dexterity, leading to early retirement from work, lower levels of wellbeing and reduced ability to participate in society.

“While the prevalence of musculoskeletal conditions increases with age, younger people are also affected, often during their peak income-earning years,” the WHO said.

“The societal impact of early retirement in terms of direct health-care costs and indirect costs (i.e., work absenteeism or productivity loss) is enormous. Projections show that the number of people with low back pain will increase in the future, and even more rapidly in low-income and middle-income countries.”