The Rise of Musculoskeletal Work-Related Injuries and How to Prevent Them


Did you know that 90% of worker’s compensation claims in 2014-2015 were due to injury and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)? This data comes from the latest report released by Safe Work Australia. The numbers also show that the parts of the body most affected by injury or disease were the back (21%), hand (13%), shoulder (11%), and knee (10%). MSDs are any injury, damage, or disorder of the joints, muscles, nerves, and tendons in the back or upper or lower limbs.


The report also shows that Australia spends more than $60 billion a year on workplace injury and illness. Experts say it comes as no surprise that musculoskeletal problems make up the majority of claims since many occupations require manual handling. However, these types of injuries can be eliminated or minimised through simple and cost-effective initiatives.


Most Common and Costly Musculoskeletal Injuries at Work


A 2016 report entitled “Statistics on Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders” shows that over a five-year period (2009 to 2014), there were 360, 180 serious MSD claims. Of that number, the top problems were soft tissue disorders (29%), trauma to muscles and tendons (21%) and trauma to joints or ligaments (14%).


The data also shows that the majority of serious MSD claims were due to body stressing, specifically muscular stress while lifting, carrying, or putting down objects (62.9%). The second most common cause was falls, trips, or slips of a person (22.


Serious claims for MSD injuries and diseases resulted in a 35% increase in the median time lost from work between 2000 and 2013. The frequency rates for serious MSD claims generally increased as age group increased. Statistics show that older employees aged 45 to 64 years for both males and females made an average of 5 claims per million hours worked. Considering the impact of ageing on the human body, it comes as no surprise that the older population are more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.


According to a recent post on disease and injury statistics on the Safe Work Australia website, the median time lost for a serious claim rose by 33% between 2000-2001 and 2013-2014. From 4.2 working weeks, the numbers rose to 5.6. Over the same period, compensation for such claims increased by 94% – from $5,200 in 2000-2001, it grew to $10,100 in 2013-2014.  


Why the Numbers Are Alarming


The latest released data shows that although the rate of serious claims is decreasing, the time lost from work is increasing. Additionally, it is costing the economy more than $60 billion when there are preventative solutions available for just a fraction of that amount. But it is not only the Australian economy that is affected. Workers who suffer from MSD injury or disease experience pain, stress, anxiety, and suffering. All of these can worsen their current health condition. And of course, with more employees taking time off due to musculoskeletal injuries or illnesses, the other workers are affected due to changes in their workload and environment.


Another point to consider is that the Australian workforce is ageing. Based on the 2015 Intergenerational report, the number of workers over 65 will rise from 12.9% to 17.3% by 2023. Thanks to medical interventions, more people are able to work well into their golden years and have more time to prepare for their retirement and aged care needs. But this also means that more employees will be older and ageing, and thus are more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems.  


This chain reaction and the compelling statistics have pushed Safe Work Australia to identify MSDs as a priority in its “Australian Strategy 2012 to 2022” report.


How to Prevent Musculoskeletal Injuries at Work


  1. Develop and implement a risk assessment plan.


This includes identifying, assessing, controlling, and evaluating safety hazards and risks.


  1. Practice pre-employment screening.


Ensure that testing is more specific to the requirements of a certain job. For example, if you are hiring a removal team, make sure applicants are able to handle the physical demands of their work. You should also make more functional job descriptions.


  1. Train employees in preventative measures.


You can work with physiotherapists who specialise in workplace wellness. These experts can give your company injury prevention seminars, manual handling and risk mitigation trainings, and ergonomic assessments. They can also conduct exercise programs focusing on strength and conditioning for the rehabilitation and injury prevention of your employees.


  1. Create a more ergonomic and safer environment.


Tailoring equipment and adjusting work station layouts are just some ways to improve posture and prevent MSD injuries and illnesses. When implementing your ergonomics programs, make sure that you take into consideration any special needs that your workers might have. For example, your older employees will need better lighting and bigger and clear text for written content. They may also need machinery that can reduce the physical exertion required to perform a certain task.


Whether you are the employer or worker, and no matter if you are a young or older employee, everyone must work together. This is essential in ensuring musculoskeletal issues, as well as other injuries and diseases are prevented as efficiently as possible in the workplace.  


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What is it and how to manage it


Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that occurs when there is too much pressure on the median nerve in one or both wrists. It may include symptoms of; tingling, numbness and pain in the wrists, hands and fingers.


The term ‘carpal tunnel’ refers to a small corridor running to the wrist inside the forearm. It is comprised of the carpal bones at the top of the tunnel and the transverse carpal ligament on the underside of the tunnel. Tendons, blood vessels and the median nerve all occupy this small space and each structure contributes to the function of the hands and wrist (Figure 1).


Hand anatomy

Figure 1: ( )


The primary symptoms of Carpal Tunnel syndrome may include sensations of tingling, pain or numbness, and weakness, resulting in difficulty gripping objects and moving fingers. Pain, pins and needles and weakness is often concentrated in the thumb, index and middle finger and half of the ring finger as well as in the wrist itself. Symptoms are generally worse at night, and symptoms tend to be stronger on your dominant hand side.


Generally, anything that reduces the space in the carpal tunnel, or increases the volume in the tunnel or irritates the median nerve can result in carpal tunnel syndrome. Most commonly, inflammation from an underlying condition can lead to increased swelling in the wrist and sometimes reduced blood flow. Some of the causes include:


  • Wrist fracture
  • Rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist
  • Pregnancy
  • Flexor Tenosynovitis or flexor tendinitis
  • Repetitive bending or sustained bending of the wrist


Carpal tunnel is diagnosed by these painful symptoms in conjunction with a number of non-invasive tests and a physical assessment done by a Hand Physiotherapist. Depending on symptoms and circumstance, an ultrasound may be advised in order to check for irregularities in the wrist. Unclear symptoms may require a nerve conduction study in order to determine precisely what problem is occurring.


Treatment for carpal tunnel may include using a wrist splint to enable the wrist to rest, thereby reducing the swelling in the tunnel. A splint will maintain the wrist in the best position to minimise the pressure within the tunnel. Your Hand Physiotherapist may also use manual treatments to reduce inflammation and swelling, improve movements in the hand and wrist and to maintain the strength of the hand and wrist.


Home exercises to help alleviate symptoms including: icing the hand and wrist, elevating the hand and wrist and gently exercising to try to restore some flexibility and strength may also be incorporated in the management for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If these methods are not effective, steroid injection of cortisone, diuretics and surgery may be considered in consultation with a Hand Surgeon.


Further discussion with your Hand Physiotherapist on how to manage symptoms and adapt your household and work activities to work around the condition and alleviate its symptoms can be very helpful.


About The Author: Sophie Halsall-McLennan is Physiotherapist from Australia who has a special interest in running clinical pilates in the Geelong region and is the owner of Fresh Start Physiotherapy. She has a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from Charles Sturt Physiotherapy, and over 12 years of clinical experience as a Physiotherapist and is registered with AHPRA. She is also a Lecturer at Deakin University.

5 healthy habits you can start today

The Office Athlete

Happy Birthday to us!

The Office Athlete just turned 5! How exciting and what a 5 years it has been. We are forever growing our client base and helping all types of offices and athletes focus on injury prevention and healthier habits. 2017 is flying by already and we are heading through the first quarter of the year alarmingly fast. We thought to celebrate our 5 wonderful years of putting Physiotherapy goodness out there, we would share our healthy tips to look after yourself from top to toes after you unwind from a busy day from whatever your office may be.

Did you know…

  • your head can weight up to 27kg when you’re looking at your phone?
Neck injury prevention

weight of head is 5.4kg and dramatically increases in weight every cm we look forward and down

So how do we fix this? We still need to text, type, scroll, double tap and live. Moderation is key with everything for a healthier life. Short breaks, postural restoration techniques such as squeezing those shoulder blades together and giving your neck a gentle stretch side to side help reduce that build up of upper trapezius tension from sustained force and strain from your head position.

  •  At the end of the day, we all have to work, or study or travel. All involve sitting. As Mike Reinold ever so brilliantly worded ‘Sitting isn’t that bad for you’. We all have to do it. But how can we enhance it in order to reduce the risk of injury and develop healthier working habits? Sitting all day can’t particularly be avoided in its entirety, but we can reduce the stress and strain as much as possible. Try some of these simple stretches when you’re at home. Use the time waiting for the kettle to boil, the microwave to beep or the compulsory advertisement on YouTube to finish.



Healthy habits and Injury prevention stretching

    Thoracic rotations
Healthy habits and Injury prevention stretching

Back extensions










We really do put our feet through a lot. Prolonged standing, uncomfortable shoes and general long distance walking. Tightnesses and trigger point development through our asymmetrical stances can occur without us even knowing! A fabulous way of combatting these nasties is so simple. Get your hands on a tennis ball or even better one of these trigger point balls. Used in sitting or standing, rolling through the arch of your foot and comparing both sides allows you to learn about the discrepancies between your left and right feet along with treating fascial tightness… And it feels oh so good


Healthy habits and Injury prevention stretching

Plantar fascia release techniques

Did you know….

  • That we subconsciously hold our breath when we text?  Think of the amount of texts you send and receive every day. This results in your poor neck muscles, such as your Traps, Sternocleidomastoid and Scalenes increasing in muscle tension to compensate.  So when you think about it, texting, tindering and trawling through your news feed is a huge contributor to poor breathing and those tight shoulders of yours. How do we combat this? Simple. Relax, exhale and drop down your shoulders. Try and catch yourself in the act too. And just take in 5 simple, slow deep breaths and it really does make you realise how we operate in a state of tension when we are in auto-pilot working away throughout the day.
  • You are most likely using your thumb to scroll on your smart phone or index fingers clicking away on your computer reading this post. Considering the amount of hours we are connected and communicating, it is important to give our hands and wrists a little love back (before they take their revenge and give you a niggle or worse… a repetitive strain injury. Here are two simple and easily forgotten stretches that are bound to do wonders for you


Healthy habits and Injury prevention stretching

Wrist extensor stretching

Healthy habits and Injury prevention stretching

Wrist flexor stretching









Want to know more about how combat postural strain and reduce injury risk?

Get in contact with us and ask us about booking a consultation

Happy stretching, working and healthier living, Athletes!

Love TOA