Most Common Musculoskeletal Injuries

The term “industrial workers” covers a wide range of people performing mostly physical jobs in an industrial setting. These may include machine operators in manufacturing plants, warehouse “pickers”, packers, shippers, maintenance personnel, etc. Because their jobs are mainly physical, it’s a given that musculoskeletal injuries are a fairly common phenomenon. In fact, they’re so common, they’ve been given their own acronym — WMSDs, short for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC for short), in 1999 alone, nearly one million people took time off from work in order to treat and recover from musculoskeletal disorders they developed through their work.



Many work-related MSDs are caused by the overuse of a certain joint or set of muscles and tendons. Others can be the result of lifting something that’s unusually heavy or simply lifting a heavy object incorrectly. Some WMSD injuries occur more often than others. The top 5 most common are

1. Muscle Strains and Low Back Injuries

Because many industrial jobs involve bending and lifting, low back injuries including severe strains and herniated disks are common.

2. Repetitive Motion Injuries/Tendinitis

When you use the same muscles, tendons, and joints over and over again, such as you might with assembly line work, for example, the soft tissues that protect them start to break down causing damage to nerves and joints and resulting in injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis, which is a condition in which tendons become inflamed or irritated and cause pain or an achy sensation.

3. Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

Contrary to what it sounds like, most people don’t get tennis elbow from playing tennis. Workers who lift items while extending their wrists can get it, for example, and so can workers whose repeated motions put a strain on their elbows.

Knee injuries affect workers whose job duties involve

4. Rotator Cuff Injuries

Problems with the rotator cuff (a system of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder), including tendinitis, may affect workers whose jobs involve a great deal of overhead reaching.



5. Tension Neck Syndrome

A stiff or painful neck can occur when certain head positions are held for long periods of time — in a downward position or turned to one side, for example.

The Cost to Industry

The Institute of Medicine estimates the economic burden of WMSDs as measured by compensation costs, lost wages, and lost productivity, are between $45 and $54 billion annually! And according to Liberty Mutual (one of the nation’s largest worker’s compensation insurance providers), MSDs caused by over-exertion (pulling, lifting, pushing, etc.) cost U.S. employers $13.4 billion annually in worker’s compensation wages.



Minimizing Losses

The science of fitting working conditions to a person’s capabilities is known as ergonomics, and its purpose is both to make workers more comfortable and to minimize the odds of developing a work-related musculoskeletal injury as a result of the overuse or repetitive use of certain muscles over long periods of time. This is accomplished through engineering workstations that adapt to the needs of workers. For example, the CDC recommends changing the layout of workstations to accommodate workers by installing adjustable height workbenches, as well as locating frequently used tools and resources within easy reach of the worker.

Administrative controls, such as rotating workers (cross-training) so that one worker isn’t constantly performing the same repetitive actions every day, scheduling more breaks, and using physical therapist-prescribed exercises to prevent injuries and teach employees better ways to perform certain tasks, are also helpful when used in conjunction with ergonomic engineering.

A program of Physical therapy is an important part of the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and will help workers return to work sooner than they would without treatment and exercises to minimize pain and swelling and regain range of motion. In fact, a doctor of physical therapy can even teach you how to perform certain activities in ways that are less likely to cause injury, which means it’s useful as part of an injury prevention program as well.



Want to learn more about physical therapy and how it can help keep your musculoskeletal system healthy and functioning as it should? Drop us a line at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab by emailing us at, or call us at 570-208-2787.