Many jobs come with an associated risk, and it’s important to understand how this can impact an employee and their company. Risks don’t only exist for businesses that operate heavy machinery or use toxic chemicals—they come with nearly any job. Eliminating risk is nearly impossible; therefore, strategies that work to prevent and mitigate risk will see the most success. Considering that the leading contributors to disability worldwide are musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, it’s essential for employers to understand how they can handle the issue proactively for their employees.

As everyone ages, the body begins to break down, raising the risk of experiencing MSK conditions. Aside from age, people can be more prone to musculoskeletal conditions because of family history, lifestyle, certain activities and occupations. MSK disorders include conditions and injuries that affect the bones, joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, and other soft tissues. In addition to areas of the body they can affect directly, the conditions can also lead to body stiffness, dull aches, swelling and recurring pain.

The Various Conditions

According to the United States Bone & Joint Initiative, MSK issues that are reported are trauma, back pain and arthritis, with arthritis among the top conditions that can lead to work risks and limitations. Arthritis is caused by a degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone—a deeply pervasive condition that can greatly impact working-age adults. This can be an overwhelming issue in the workplace, as the estimated number of people in the United States with doctor-diagnosed arthritis from 2013 to 2015 was about 54.4 million on average. That number is estimated to reach 78.4 million by 2040, which will be more than a quarter of the adult population. Furthermore, the number of adults who will suffer from arthritis-attributable activity limitation (AAAL) is projected to reach 34.6 million, or 11.4% of all adults, by 2040.

Sword Health considers carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) another highly common musculoskeletal condition. CTS occurs through the compression of the nerve as it travels through the wrist and is often caused by repetitive hand use or extreme flexion and extension of the wrist or hand. It can affect people across all careers—from hairdressers and welders to cashiers and journalists. Those in the textile and livestock industries are at higher risk of the syndrome, but any worker who uses a computer mouse for more than 20 hours every week is also at an increased risk—according to the Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy.

Arthritis and CTS aren’t the only musculoskeletal conditions that can impact a person’s ability to work. Other common issues include:

  • Broken bones. A complete or partial break can happen if trauma, overuse or disease has weakened the bones. Aside from pain, a broken bone can lead to the temporary loss of function of the extremity.
  • Fibromyalgia. Widespread tenderness and pain that can be accompanied by fatigue. Fibromyalgia can also cause poor sleep habits and affect mood and memory.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. When the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Without treatment, rheumatoid arthritis can wear down the bones and lead to deformity in joints. The condition begins in the joint cartilage but can move on to other organs in the body.
  • Tendinitis. When a tendon, the fibrous tissue that connects the bone and muscle, becomes inflamed. This condition is often seen in the shoulder, elbow, ankle or wrist.

Addressing the Problems

Regardless of the fact that MSK diseases affect half of adults in the country—and nearly 75% of senior citizens—many don’t receive treatment because of limited accessibility and high cost. This is concerning, as people with MSK conditions are at a nearly 20% increased risk of developing a chronic disease, compared to people without MSK. Much of this population is still in the workforce, therefore some responsibility falls on employers to give workers the tools they need to address MSK conditions. Providing early intervention and proactivity, as well as injury care, are the best ways to address the issue head-on.

Because MSK care is not a one-size-fits-all answer, people should have access to care that’s specific to their needs, and not just after an injury occurs. Fortunately, emerging technology is making it easier for businesses to provide the support each person needs to better manage disorders or conditions—more affordably. Employers can provide staff access to leading digital MSK therapy solutions from across a growing network of world-class, evidence-based digital interventions. Digital solutions can address a variety of MSK conditions through sub-clinical services that don’t just handle injuries and chronic condition management, but preventative wellness and preoperative and postoperative rehabilitation, too.

Connecting employees with digital MSK solutions through a single touchpoint for condition management and streamlined engagement, a digital front door helps ensure employees are paired with the appropriate care while optimizing cost and outcomes for employees, employers, and insurance payers. Across a spectrum of acuity, employees often have different levels of need regarding their engagement with health and wellness. Matching them with solutions based on their preferences empowers consumer choice while addressing more specific needs and conditions rather than approaching MSK interventions as one-size-fits-all. Digital MSK solutions not only help to improve significant issues with physical therapy access and adherence, but also have shown that traditional approaches are not always necessary, let alone accessible.

Increasing Access

By granting access to MSK solutions through an organization’s health plan, payers and employer partners positively impact the most widespread and costly chronic conditions. Patients can access their care through different means, including an app through which they can complete courses and exercises at their own pace, or live video calls with therapists. Choice gives consumers the benefit of an approach that works best for them—it’s forward-thinking and delivers MSK health in a form that is flexible to fit the consumer’s lifestyle. The needs of a person are truly met, beyond simply responding to their condition.