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Understanding Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Ergonomics in simple terms means improving the fit between your body and an activity. Adjusting a workstation so a small person can better reach materials or machinery is one example of using ergonomic principles. The result is increased comfort and efficiency. By applying ergonomic principles, you can make any task—done anywhere—less taxing on your body.

Man wearing safety hat and safety glasses using an electric drill at a construction site.

Why you should care

If you don't pay attention to ergonomics, the activities you do may, over time, lead to a musculoskeletal disorder. Sometimes called MSDs, this group of physical problems usually affects soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and nerves) and joints. Although MSDs most frequently affect the back and wrists, your whole body is actually at risk. MSDs can damage fingers, elbows, and shoulders, as well as the neck and arms, and even the legs, ankles, and feet. Left untreated, an MSD may limit your range of motion or reduce your ability to grip objects.

Symptoms of an MSD

MSDs often begin with a feeling of discomfort. You may notice swelling or muscle fatigue that doesn't go away with rest. Some people feel tingling or numbness. At first the discomfort may come and go. But with time, symptoms may become constant. Muscle weakness and nerve problems may develop.

Avoiding problems at work and home

Using ergonomic principles on the job reduces your risk of developing a work-related MSD. By acting now, you may save yourself months of future discomfort and possible time away from work. And don't think of ergonomics only at work. Apply ergonomic principles to everything you do and treat your body right 24 hours a day.

By any other name

According to OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), MSDs are defined as a group of illnesses associated with ongoing damage to soft tissues. Problems such as these may also be called:

  • Repetitive motion injuries (RMIs)

  • Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)

  • Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs)


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