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MSK’s Are Not Going Away!

Musculo-skeletal (MSK) injuries continue to be a problem in the workplace. A recent article published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) titled “The Price of Pain: Workers’ Compensation Costs for Musculoskeletal Claims in the State of Kansas, 2014-2022” published in March 2024 and authored by C. Manning and M. Jorgenson supports MSK as the number one injury.

The article reported that the shoulder MSK is now their number one injury for the State of Kansas for both frequency (24% of all body parts) and cost (~$35,000 per claim). About 10 years ago, the low back was State of Kansas’ number one MSK in terms of frequency and cost. This seems to be the trend in most industries today that have physically demanding jobs – the shoulder is injured most often and is the most costly.

The authors of the article stated that perhaps the shoulder is number one because the dataset included only claims that included indemnity benefits which means the worker had at least 7 consecutive lost work days per claim. The authors also went on the say that shoulder injuries generally require longer rehab times.

Overexertion injuries continue to be the number one cause of all injuries resulting in sprains as the number one diagnosis.

I am not surprised by these results. I have been reporting for years that the DataFit (formerly IPCS) database has shown the American worker (both men and women) has demonstrated a loss of absolute strength to the shoulder and knee of about 1% per year since 2005 across all age groups.

There are probably a number of factors contributing to this loss of absolute strength such as automation in the workplace. With robots taking over many physically demanding tasks, the worker spends more time sitting and watching monitors than physically handling product. Another factor is that, in general, the American worker today is not as physically fit as the worker once was 25 years ago. Again, DataFit data shows there are more workers in the High Risk muscle health category for certain lifestyle diseases and MSK injuries today and fewer workers in the Low Risk category compared to five years ago. Essentially the worker is at greater risk today for MSK injuries especially shoulder injuries.

Sadly, I don’t think this trend is going to change. The overall well-being of the worker is declining. The question is what role should industry play, if any, in reversing this trend because the problem is already under way long before the age of 20. I recently read an article (Exercise and Sport Reviews, 2024) where the authors are suggesting that children and young adults should be paid to be physically active. A more physically active child will result in a more physically fit worker entering the workforce. Could this lead to something like what is happening with Division 1 college football where the players are substantially paid to play? Money speaks!

I don’t have a solution to the problem other than I know we have one and it will continue for many years to come unless a solution with the appropriate incentives to correct the problem becomes available. Until that happens, companies should continue to screen the strength of new hire candidates entering into physically demanding jobs.

Tom Gilliam

About the author

Thomas B Gilliam, Ph.D.

Thomas has a Ph.D. in exercise/muscle physiology.  He has worked with isokinetic testing for 50 years in sports medicine and in Industry.  Tom is the author of Move it. Lose it. Live Healthy.  He has presented at numerous professional conferences and symposiums.  Tom has also published in scholarly journals.