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In November, 2000,issued an Ergonomics Program standard (29CFR 1910.900) with the purpose of reducing "the number and severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by exposure to risk factors in the workplace." The standard covered workers in general industry. Then, on March 6th and 7th, 2001, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives repealed the OSHA standard. However, the potential for MSDs exists in many routine tasks performed by employees. Everyone should be aware of the risk factors and signs and symptoms of MSDs.

Scope and Application

This article is designed to provide each employee with information about:

Common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and their signs and symptoms;
The importance of reporting musculoskeletal disorders and their signs and symptoms early and the consequences of not doing so;
The kinds of risk factors, jobs and work activities associated with MSD hazards;
Measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing a MSD.


There are many different , MSDs and many different activities associated with MSD hazards. Although OSHA's Ergonomics Program standard has been repealed, Appendix A contained general information regarding MSDs, signs and symptoms, risk factors, etc. and is quoted, in part, below to provide all employees with a basic understanding of ergonomics. Persons who spend a lot of time using a computer workstation should review our article on Computer Workstation Ergonomics, as well.

From Non-Mandatory Appendix A to §1910.900:
What You Need To Know About Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
Ergonomics is the science of fitting jobs to the people who work in them. The goal of an ergonomics program is to reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) developed by workers when a major part of their jobs involve reaching, bending over, lifting heavy objects, using continuous force, working with vibrating equipment and doing repetitive motions.

Workers suffering from MSDs may experience less strength for gripping, less range of motion, loss of muscle function and inability to do everyday tasks. Common symptoms include:

  • Painful joints
  • Pain in wrists, shoulders, forearms, knees
  • Pain, tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Fingers or toes turning white
  • Shooting or stabbing pains in arms or legs
  • Back or neck pain
  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Stiffness
  • Burning sensation

MSDs are injuries and illnesses that affect muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints or spinal discs. Your doctor might tell you that you have one of the following common MSDs.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Rotator cuff syndrome
  • De Quervain's disease
  • Trigger finger
  • Sciatica
  • Epicondylitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Raynaud's phenomenon
  • Carpet layers' knee
  • Herniated spinal disc
  • Low back pain
  • Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome
  • Tension neck syndrome

Workplace MSDs are caused by exposure to the following risk factors:

  • Repetition. Doing the same motions over and over again places stress on the muscles and tendons. The severity of risk depends on how often the action is repeated, the speed of the movement, the number of muscles involved and the required force.
  • Forceful Exertions. Force is the amount of physical effort required to perform a task (such as heavy lifting) or to maintain control of equipment or tools. The amount of force depends on the type of grip, the weight of an object, body posture, the type of activity and the duration of the task.
  • Awkward Postures. Posture is the position your body is in and affects muscle groups that are involved in physical activity. Awkward postures include repeated or prolonged reaching, twisting, bending, kneeling, squatting, working overhead with your hands or arms, or holding fixed positions.
  • Contact Stress. Pressing the body against a hard or sharp edge can result in placing too much pressure on nerves, tendons and blood vessels. For example, using the palm of your hand as a hammer can increase your risk of suffering an MSD.
  • Vibration. Operating vibrating tools such as sanders, grinders, chippers, routers, drills and other saws can lead to nerve damage. .

If MSD signs and symptoms are not reported early, permanent disability may result. It is important that you report MSD signs and symptoms right away to avoid long-lasting problems. . . .

Managing Risk Factors

Employers and employees can take several steps to reduce or control the risks of MSDs.  After performing a job analysis, the employer may use one or more of the following measures to control or correct identified risk factors:

  1. Engineering controls, such as work station or tool design;
  2. Work practices, such as proper lifting techniques;
  3. Administrative controls, such as rotating workers among tasks; or, if needed, . . .
  4. Personal protective equipment, such as knee pads.

In addition, many experts recommend simple exercise routines that workers can use to relieve the muscle tension that is often an early warning of musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive stress injuries. While we do not endorse or recommend any specific exercise program, here are two that can be performed in an office setting:

  • To relieve stiff, sore muscles perform these stretches reproduced from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Health and Safety Guide to Laboratory Ergonomics (PDF, Get Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader - Link opens in new window) .
  • To lessen the risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, try these hand and wrist stretches (PDF, Get Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader - Link opens in new window) copied, with permission, from the American Physical Therapy Association's Carpal Tunnel brochure.

Other exercises can be found at various Web sites dealing with specific MSDs and Ergonomics in general.


For information on how to report musculoskeletal disorders, MSD signs and symptoms, and MSD hazards in your work area, speak to your supervisor and contact the HRSTM department.

For questions or additional information on ergonomics, please contact the Public Health & Environmental Safety Office or by telephone at (240) 567-4308.