Taking the Pain Out of the Neck, and Back, and …

By Andie Burjek

Nov. 28, 2016

backpain_300Even work you enjoy can be a pain — for both employers and employees.

Musculoskeletal disorders, which are conditions related to movement of the body and characterized by pain, have been one of the leading disabling conditions of the past five years, said Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Such disorders affect more than 50 percent of people 18 and older, according to Unum, and they account for almost 30 percent of workers’ compensation costs, the health insurer said.

Musculoskeletal disorders include neck pain, back pain, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, among other ailments. One major cause related to the workplace is prolonged periods of sitting, said Rhodes.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, our work environment was more manufacturing, whereas today it’s more technology,” Rhodes added. “So we have more and more people sitting for long periods of time without really adjusting their body mechanics.”

A sit-stand workstation is one accommodation that addresses musculoskeletal disorders, she said. Also effective are proper lifting and back-safety programs. Companies also can adopt an ergonomics program, in which companies provide employees with workstations, tools and equipment meant to reduce physical stress on their bodies. Employees can also learn the benefits of good posture, back support and how to use a keyboard in the least stressful way.

Organizations can get inspiration from internal workers’ compensation experts, who have been touting preventive programs for years, Rhodes said, adding that companies often don’t take advantage of their in-house expertise.

“The workers’ comp side of the house has been doing these kinds of preventative programs for a long time,” she said.

One way to make musculoskeletal disorder prevention more attractive to younger workers is to tie it to something they do care about, said Terri Rhodes, CEO of the DMEC.

Wellness programs can also address musculoskeletal disorders, she added. Gym memberships, weight-loss programs and step-count competitions already push increased movement, and more specific to the disorders, companies with the resources to do so could offer onsite ergonomics or onsite physical therapy, she said.

Taking these measures can not only limit but potentially prevent future musculoskeletal disorders, but convincing the ambivalent younger generation, which can have a “mindset of invincibility,” is another story, said Rhodes.

“For a wellness program to work, employees have to really be interested in it,” she said. “And unfortunately many employees don’t get to that point until there’s been an injury or some kind of condition that requires them to think about their health.”

One way to make musculoskeletal disorder prevention more attractive to younger workers is to tie it to something they do care about, Rhodes said. There’s a general trend that young people are more anti-medical and care about controlling their own health. Employers could speak to younger workers about ways they could care for themselves, and it shouldn’t be the same way they speak to baby boomers.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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