From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

The Future: Pinpointing the Origin of Workplace MSDs

For researchers like Dr. Michael Feuerstein, MPH, ABPP, focusing on the origin of workplace MSDs means looking at a combination of job factors.

“There is research that shows it is the interaction of biomechanical factors and exposure to these job stress factors that contribute to symptoms, clinical office visits, lost time, and longer term disability. There are some individual psychosocial factors that can affect MSDs in the workplace such as mood and reaction to pain, too, but we should not forget that these are factors that can affect the expression of many pain problems and medical disorders,” said Feuerstein.

Addressing some of the psychosocial factors contributing to MSDs may prove to be more difficult than just encouraging work breaks or offering flex-time.  “There is a concept called workstyle that we have been studying that helps explain how biomechanical [awkward postures, excessive force] and psychosocial factors, in particular job stressors such as time pressures and work demands, might influence [musculoskeletal] symptoms, disorders and disability at the workplace,” Feuerstein told The Ergonomics Report.


Feuerstein notes that, along with fellow researchers Dr. Grant Huang and graduate student Rena Nicholas, the group has been able to develop measures of workstyle and relate these measurements to symptoms including types of pain, injuries and functional limitations.  The drawback is that altering these identified workstyles may prove problematic.

“How to use this [workstyle information] in interventions in under investigation, but it is turning out to be a complicated complex of behaviors, attitudes and physiological reactions to work demands,” said Feuerstein.  The problem lies in changing the workplace, which will also entail changing workplace attitudes since, as Feuerstein said, many of the workstyle characteristics associated with pain and injury are “very positive characteristic[s] of an individual’s work,”

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2004-08-01.