What’s in a name? Define MSDs

What exactly is a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)? Here are some definitions in use by federal agencies:

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

OSHA’s definition of MSDs died along with the ergonomics standard, which was revoked in 2001. (It referred to disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, blood vessels, or spinal discs caused by workplace exposure to one or more of the following risk factors: repetition, force, awkward postures, contact stress, and vibration. It did not include injuries caused by slips, trips, falls, vehicle accidents, or similar accidents.) OSHA now says, "There are a wide variety of opinions on how the Agency should define an ergonomic injury and that the definition adopted by OSHA depends on the context . . . there is no single diagnosis for MSDs."

Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"Work-related MSDs include cases where the nature of the injury or illness is sprains, strains, tears; back pain, hurt back; carpal tunnel syndrome; hernia or musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders and when the event or exposure leading to the injury or illness is bodily reaction/bending, climbing, crawling, reaching, twisting; overexertion; or repetition. Cases of Raynaud phenomenon, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and herniated spinal disc are not included. Although these cases may be considered MSDs, the survey classifies these cases in categories that also include non-MSD cases."

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

"Although definitions vary, the general term musculoskeletal disorders’ describes the following:

• disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs;

• disorders that are not typically the result of any instantaneous or acute event (such as a slip, trip, or fall) but reflect a more gradual or chronic development (nevertheless, acute events such as slips and trips are very common causes of musculoskeletal problems such as low back pain);

• disorders diagnosed by a medical history, physical examination, or other medical tests that can range in severity from mild and intermittent to debilitating and chronic;

• disorders with several distinct features (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) as well as disorders defined primarily by the location of the pain (i.e., low back pain)."