Everyone suffers from aches and pains in our muscles and joints at some point. Some of these might be caused by a specific injury or accident, whilst others appear to have no obvious cause at all. Back pain, creaky knees, dodgy hips and frozen shoulder are just some of the common problems people experience.
Whilst some of these may be temporary and heal quickly, others can seem to happen again and again, or may be a symptom of a problem which doesn’t go back to the way it was before, such as arthritis.
Musculoskeletal (MSK) problems include issues that relate to the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. There are many different ways in which these parts of our bodies can lead to painful conditions such as strain, sprain, repetitive strain, posture related stress, spasms, tears or poor blood supply.
Experts estimate MSK problems account for one in five GP consultations in the UK, and up to 30% of work days lost.
These vary according to which condition you have but here are some of the most common complaints:
- Arthritis: Around 10 million people and one in 12 adults in the UK have arthritis. Arthritis can be an autoimmune type which tends to affect people in early to mid life and involves the immune system attacking its own tissues (these types are relatively rare) or the wear and tear type called osteoarthritis which usually develops later, in our 50s and 60s. As the body ages on the outside we see grey hair and wrinkles in the skin, whilst on the inside the cartilage (the shiny whiteness on the ends of bones that help joints glide and move) thins and flakes away. Sometimes this process can cause pain and inflammation and at this point we diagnose it as osteoarthritis. Nobody knows why it is very painful for some people but goes virtually unnoticed in others.
- Back pain: About 16.5 million people in the UK have back pain. Experts estimate 80 per cent of us will have it at some time. Most back pain is classed as ‘mechanical’ – it has come about as a result of not looking after it as well as we might, and this can even irritate the nerves so that we feel pain or strange sensations in our legs as well. Occasionally back pain can be due to a different reason and in that case a doctor or physio would be able to advise on the best course of action. You’re more at risk of mechanical back pain if you don’t maintain a reasonable level of physical fitness (strength, flexibility and cardiovascular ability), sit for long periods of time, or do very heavy and repetitive manual work without applying good manual handling advice.
- Neck pain. Increased time sitting and using tablets and laptops can put strain on our necks which can then be felt in the neck, top of the back, and even into the shoulders, arms and fingers. Try to ensure that you maintain a good posture with your head directly above your body and a forward curve in your low back. Refer to the DSE User Posture Guidance link to make sure your chair and workstation are optimally arranged and your posture is correct.
- Shorter term injuries: These are sprains, twist, dislocations, fractures etc. If you have severe sudden pain, go to a Minor Injuries Unit or Accident and Emergency Department. For sprains, strains and bruising try the RICE approach: Rest, apply Ice, use Compression and Elevate. You can use the Physiotherapy Service provided by RehabWorks if you are unsure about an injury or what to do for the best – speak to your manager about a referral.
There are steps you can take to look after your bones, muscles and joints.
- Watch your weight: being overweight puts more stress on your joints and can raise your chances of developing osteoarthritis in the knee or hip for instance. Losing 10 per cent of your body weight and doing exercise can improve your symptoms.
- Follow health and safety guidance about lifting, repetitive movements, use of computer terminals and vibrating machinery in the workplace. If you work at a desk stand up every 45 minutes and take a short break. If you have a manual job, make sure you use manual handling tools to assist you where provided and ask for help if something is heavier or more difficult than normal.
- Giving up smoking and drinking only a small amount of alcohol per week can decrease your risk of injury and speed up the time your body takes to heal it. This is because the tissues in the body are being damaged by the chemicals in alcohol or smoke, The body then cannot repair the cells and micro-structures that it needs to keep the bigger structures of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints strong and healthy.
- Nutrition; eat a well-balanced diet with at least 5 fist-sized portions of fruit or vegetables a day. This will provide the right building blocks from the vitamins, minerals and protein, to help to keep all tissues healthier, stronger, and help them to withstand pressures that could cause injury.
- Maintain a reasonable level of fitness for you: do something that makes you a bit puffed out, and something that helps you relax a few times a week. This could be almost anything that you enjoy and is sustainable in the long term.
If you have problems with back, neck or joint pain, arthritis type symptoms or repeated sprains or strains, ask your line manager to call the Physiotherapy Service provided by RehabWorks for advice and guidance. You may also benefit from using medication or being referred on to a doctor or specialist; RehabWorks will be able to advise you on this.
Always tell your line manager if you are having back or joint problems as we may be able to help, by adjusting things within your working life, for example a switch of duties, or advice on posture.