Psychosocial impact on Musculoskeletal disorders.

Author: Stacey Farmer

Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant source of lost work time. You would be right in thinking that occupational physical activity can be responsible for injuries sustained within a workplace, but what about other causes, like stress, depression, anxiety or other social factors that may be related to work or day to day life? These psychosocial risk factors are just as important, and therefore need to also be considered as a potential risk for developing workplace injuries. After all, we’re human beings, not just bodies. We are not separate from our thoughts and emotions, but instead are a whole complex but wonderful package.

But what do we mean by the term ‘psychosocial’?

This is the interrelation of social factors and individual thought and behaviour. There can be many psychosocial hazards within an organisation. These can include high working hours and workloads, low levels of job control, time pressure, pace of work and poorly defined work roles. Factors such as whether the worker is able to freely communicate with management, feel valued, have positive relationships with supervisors and colleagues and work within a positive health/safety culture can influence a worker’s psychosocial risk.

Research into the influence of psychosocial impacts.

There is a growing body of research looking at the influence of psychosocial impacts on musculoskeletal workplace injuries. For instance, research has found that stressful psychosocial work environments can increase risk for back pain among workers. Employees who reported high job intensity demands, job dissatisfaction and high job scheduling demands were more likely to report back pain than those who did not have these stressors. Other factors such as low job control and effort-reward imbalance especially can be associated with pain located anywhere throughout the body, not just isolated to back pain.

What about psychosocial stressors?

While it is great that preventative strategies within the workplace are focusing on factors such as ergonomic risk factors, what about these psychosocial stressors? They are just as important as the physical stressors, and, some may argue could have more of an influence, depending on the person and their scenario. As physiotherapists, we are good at reducing physical stressors within the work environment. Imagine if we were just as good at reducing the psychosocial stressors in conjunction. This is where working with a psychologist within a team can be very beneficial.

Although there is a fair bit of work to be done in this area, we here at Axis believe in treating the worker as a human being – as a whole person that comes not only with just a physical injury, but maybe other factors in their life that are contributing to their current situation. Taking into account someone’s biology, psychology, and social factors is imperative to having a positive outcome for the worker and we take great pride in being able to do this when working with our workers.