Supporting musculoskeletal health is good for business
January 3, 2024
For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators
Musculoskeletal conditions are one of the most common health issues affecting workers.5 They can be caused by a variety of factors including repetitive motions, poor posture, heavy lifting, and poorly positioned workstations (e.g., desks, chairs, monitors, keyboards). These conditions can have a significant influence on the workplace, affecting productivity and morale.
In this article, we will explore the importance of supporting musculoskeletal health in the workplace and provide recommendations for building a workplace environment that supports musculoskeletal health.
Overview of common musculoskeletal conditions in the working population
Musculoskeletal conditions are a group of disorders that affect the muscles, bones, nerves, and joints. They particularly affect those who perform physical labour or repetitive motions as part of their jobs. Workers who sit or stand for prolonged periods, or workers with poorly set up workstations, are also at risk. Some of the most common musculoskeletal conditions in the working population include:
- back pain,
- carpal tunnel syndrome,
- arthritis, and
- strains and sprains.1
Symptoms can vary based on the type of injury, but common complaints associated with musculoskeletal injury include:
- aches and pains,
- twitching and/or burning sensations in the muscles,
- pain that gets worse with movement or activity,
- fatigue, and
- difficulty sleeping.
Impacts of musculoskeletal conditions on the workforce
Musculoskeletal conditions can have a significant impact on the workplace. They can lead to absenteeism and lower productivity, as workers may need to take time off to recover from injuries or manage their symptoms. Additionally, musculoskeletal conditions can reduce morale if workers become frustrated or discouraged by their symptoms and limitations.2 In some instances, musculoskeletal conditions can even cause people to leave the workforce, or retire earlier than planned, due to chronic pain or discomfort.
A leading cause of disability
Musculoskeletal conditions are among the leading causes of disability and chronic pain amongst workers.3 Between January 1 and October 31, 2023, Manulife data shows that musculoskeletal injury and pain accounted for 21% of all disability claims.5
Additionally, Manulife sees more unique claimants for musculoskeletal conditions than any other chronic condition, representing more than 45% of unique claimants overall.5
Unique claimants by chronic condition (Health/Drugs and all Paramedical)
|Brain and Nervous System
Source: Manulife aggregate claims data, Health/Drugs and Paramedical, January 2023 to October 2023
People seek active and passive therapies
Active therapies, such as physiotherapy, are important ways to address musculoskeletal concerns, improve symptoms, and reduce the risk of re-injury. Active therapies require the patient to directly engage in physical effort during the course of treatment, and these can be very effective overall for many musculoskeletal conditions. Amongst unique claimants for musculoskeletal conditions, 30% are using physiotherapy. Other, more passive therapies that may be pursued for musculoskeletal conditions include registered massage therapy, chiropractic, manual osteopathic treatments, and acupuncture.5
Note - Manulife does not collect data on the specific reason people seek different paramedical treatments, such as massage therapy or chiropractic treatment. While massage treatments are often pursued to address musculoskeletal symptoms, people may seek massage for a variety of other reasons, which can make it difficult to estimate how many claims are directly related to these specific conditions. However, even when excluding massage therapy from the data, musculoskeletal conditions continue to account for the most unique claimants by chronic condition.
Medications can also be a helpful way to address symptoms associated with musculoskeletal conditions. For example, some medications can be prescribed by doctors to reduce inflammation, reduce stiffness, and address muscle spasms associated with certain musculoskeletal conditions. So, it’s important to include coverage for all these different interventions in your plan.5
“Certain musculoskeletal conditions can become more chronic if not appropriately addressed,” says Dr. Steve Pomedli of Cleveland Clinic Canada, Manulife’s Medical Director. “And a number of chronic musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, are more common as we get older. So, an older workforce is likely to see more of these conditions, which means the demand for treatment is also likely to increase in the coming years.”
Ergonomics – at work and at home
The effects of the pandemic and the increase in the number of people working from home are important considerations for employers and employees. When employees who work at home don’t have a proper workstation set up, it can aggravate existing musculoskeletal issues or contribute to new ones. Employers who provide ergonomic education and assessments can help employees better understand the importance of good posture and properly aligned workstations to avoid future injury or pain. It’s also a way for employers to play a role in building a workplace environment that helps prevent musculoskeletal conditions and potentially reduce the risk of long-term disability claims.
Building a workplace environment that supports musculoskeletal health
There are several steps that employers can take to build a workplace environment that supports musculoskeletal health and provides the tools and resources to help employees avoid injury and pain. These steps include:
1. Providing ergonomic equipment: Ergonomic equipment, such as chairs, desks, and keyboards, can help workers maintain good posture and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal conditions.4
2. Promoting proper body mechanics, posture and desk set up: Employers can provide training on proper body mechanics and posture to help workers avoid injuries and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal conditions.14
3. Encouraging breaks and stretching exercises: Employers can encourage workers to take breaks and do stretching exercises throughout the day to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal conditions. By giving workers an opportunity to take a break and make activity a normal part of their day, you can help workers engage their muscles, maintain flexibility, and reduce the risk of injuries.6
4. Providing job accommodations: Employers can provide job accommodations, such as adjusting work tasks/schedules (providing variety to avoid repetitive injuries) or assessing and modifying an employee’s duties to better accommodate their symptoms, and to help workers with musculoskeletal conditions continue working in a safe and productive manner.7
5. Creating a supportive workplace culture: Employers can create a workplace culture that supports musculoskeletal health by encouraging open communication, providing educational resources with information for preventing injuries, managing symptoms, and promoting a healthy and safe work environment.8
Recommendations for coverage
Employers can also provide coverage for musculoskeletal health services to ensure that workers have access to the care they need. Some recommendations for coverage include:
Coverage for physical therapy: Physical therapy is often an effective treatment for a range of musculoskeletal conditions, and employers can provide coverage for this service to help workers recover from injuries, improve their function, reduce the risk of injury, or manage their symptoms.9
Coverage for massage therapy: Massage therapy can be helpful for providing short-term relief of musculoskeletal pain and discomfort and can also help lower stress levels and improve sleep.10
Access to ergonomic assessments: Employers can provide coverage for ergonomic assessments to ensure that workers have access to the equipment and resources they need to maintain musculoskeletal health.4 Contact your usual Manulife representative for more information about ergonomic assessments with our Workplace Well-being team.
Coverage for assistive devices: Employers can consider providing coverage for assistive devices, such as braces or splints, to help workers manage their symptoms and prevent further injury.12
Coverage for mental health services: Musculoskeletal conditions can have a significant impact on mental health, and employers can provide coverage for mental health services to help workers manage the emotional toll of their conditions.13
Supporting musculoskeletal health in the workplace is good for business. By creating a workplace environment that supports musculoskeletal health and providing coverage for musculoskeletal health services, employers can help reduce the risk of injuries, support employees with ongoing conditions, and improve productivity.
To find out more about what your group benefits plan covers or to make changes to your plan, contact your usual Manulife representative.
5 Manulife claims data analysis, 2023