Stress and musculoskeletal disorders

Health and safety | April 2018

stressed female entrepreneur in creativity crisis
Why is workplace stress a problem?

April is Stress Awareness Month, providing a helpful focus on the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions. Here our ergonomics consultant, Emma Crumpton, provides the bigger picture on addressing workplace stress and musculoskeletal disorders.

Stress and musculoskeletal disorders are the two most common causes of work related ill health, and as such can impact levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other critical performance factors. Both conditions share common risk factors and they frequently occur together, having an influence on each other.

As the UK’s Health and Safety Executive says, work related stress can be the result of insufficient attention to job design, work organisation and management. Clearly, organisations need to understand and manage this effectively.

Stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures and demands placed on them’

40% of work related illness

440,000 workers in the UK have reported a stress related illness. That is 40% of all work related illness (source: Health and Safety Executive).

The relationship between MSDs and stress

Stress and musculoskeletal disorders are the two most common causes of work related ill health. Both conditions share common risk factors and they frequently occur together, having an influence on each other.

Broad psychosocial factors are significant, and include environmental factors, work practices, relationships, attitudes and behaviours. But how might stress influence MSDs?

Useful resources for managing work related stress

Access the HSE stress management competency tool plus a useful line managers’ guide and practical guidance on managing and supporting staff.

If you need help, we can carry out independent assessments of individuals: please get in touch to request this service.


Various ways in which stress might influence MSDs have been proposed.

  1. Stress impacts the musculoskeletal system by changing the way the body responds to physical demands, by affecting what the body can tolerate. So psychological stress may induce physiological stress and muscle tension.
  2. Increased levels of stress may cause individuals to perform tasks differently (for instance excessive keying force when typing, or gripping the mouse), leading to a variation in biomechanical loading.
  3. Stress may lead to changes in behavior and cognitive responses. For instance, increased symptom reporting, or variations in the experience of pain, impairment or disability.
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Learn how a biopsychosocial approach will inform a proactive ergonomics programme – and make a positive impact across a business.

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Addressing stress and musculoskeletal disorders – how we can help.

At System Concepts we understand the complex relationship between psychological and physiological stress. We use this knowledge to understand and solve the problems we see during the workstation assessment process.

Our clients know that we won’t recommend expensive equipment and physical workstation changes when they are unnecessary. But we will encourage our clients to communicate with management and outside agencies, to deal positively with stress and musculoskeletal disorders.

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