The importance of early intervention in managing workplace musculoskeletal injuries

Wouldn’t it be great if you could ring a psychic hotline to receive an accurate prediction about who was going to succumb to a musculoskeletal injury next at your workplace and over the next two years?

Think about it: wouldn’t you like to know who’s next to get carpal tunnel syndrome? Or who will experience shoulder muscle strains or a nerve root impingement in the neck? How about a  lower back disc bulge?

Hold up, hold up. Put the phone down – you don’t need to make any calls to uncover this information. All you need to do is simply observe your workers, engage with them and take preventative measures to address any issues before they develop into a debilitating musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).

You can achieve this with an early intervention program.

What is early intervention?

We’re all familiar with the saying, ‘prevention is better than cure,’ but how many of us put it into practice at our workplace? This is where early intervention comes in. The focus is on prevention, not treatment.

Employing the services of an onsite physiotherapist who has the training, knowledge and experience in managing occupational injuries will enable you to run your early intervention program. A partnership with your onsite physiotherapist will addresses the niggles, aches, and discomfort before they becomes serious MSD’s – and not to mention, a costly claim for your company.

Studies have revealed that musculoskeletal injuries are 10 times costlier to businesses than any other types of injury. This is because the longer an employee takes leave due to a work-related injury, the greater the costs to the business due to worker’s compensation claim and lower productivity, and the less chances of the employee returning to work.

Early intervention and musculoskeletal assessments can detect warning signs of MSDs, and prevent them from developing into a serious injury. While early intervention may cost your business more initially, your organisation will benefit from the savings in the long run. This is because we all know that when our employees take leave due to a work-related injury, it affects everyone –  from the morale of the entire company right down to the bottom dollar.

Who is most susceptible to MSDs in the workplace?

Whenever a worker uses their body to perform a manual job task, they are potentially at risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder. While anyone’s body can be jeopardised, a number of blue-collar businesses that engage in heavy manual labour are in the spotlight. These workers are more prone to the types of MSD’s that early intervention can prevent due to high task repetitions, forceful exertions and repetitive or sustained awkward postures.[4] However, musculoskeletal problems in the neck, shoulders, back, arms and hands can affect even those sitting in an office behind a computer.[5]

When acting quickly on the injured employee by performing musculoskeletal system assessments, they will have a much higher chance of getting treated before it’s ‘too late.’

Early warning signs are present in your workforce today

In order to prevent work-related musculoskeletal injuries from getting any worse, it’s important to be able to recognise the early warning signs of an injury developing. These come in various forms and have varying degrees of severity.

Minor discomfort such as tingling or numbness in the affected area can be a sign that a musculoskeletal injury is developing – and this can quickly progress to include cramping and muscle spasms.

Some sufferers may experience weakness, stiffness or a limited range of motion. Others may find the affected area is swollen.

These are important signs to be aware of as they are not as obvious as the main indicator of musculoskeletal injury – pain. The pain associated with this kind of injury can take various forms and it can become extremely severe. In some cases, stabbing or shooting pains will be suffered, while others may experience burning sensations.

By learning to recognise these indicators, it is possible to make employees more aware of musculoskeletal injury and put steps in place to help prevent it.

So, what can you do about it?

It’s never too late to make a positive change to your workplace’s culture towards musculoskeletal assessment. Preventing and managing MSD’s in your workplace can be as simple as making your employees aware of the early signs so they can identify them when they appear. It’s also important to create a culture that encourages early reporting to supervisors, managers, and HR. You can even train your team leaders to react and respond quickly to any early reports of musculoskeletal pain. Most importantly, the employee’s injuries should be followed up after 6 months, and again at 12 months – and then recorded.

Preventative consultations should be available to each and every employee, and the self-help techniques recommended should not be therapeutic in nature. Instead, they should serve as a means to help employees counteract minor niggles, sprains and strains that could potentially turn into an injury that requires medical evaluation and treatment.

Early intervention can be the difference between a treatable, minor injury and a disorder that requires surgery or heavy medication. So, when you think of musculoskeletal pain, think prevention!

Does your organisation need musculoskeletal assessment joint motion and muscle testing? Talk to us today. Our musculoskeletal specialists can work with your health practitioners to better manage and reduce musculoskeletal pain through early intervention physiotherapy.