Work adjustments for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

musculoskeletal disorders and office adjustmentsMusculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the leading causes of long term sickness absence in the UK. ‘Musculoskeletal disorder’ is an umbrella term used to describe ‘any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper/lower limbs or the back’, as defined by the Health and Safety Executive. Examples of MSDs include back pain, tendinitis, RSI and osteoarthritis.

According to the Work Foundation, MSDs comprise about 55 per cent of all work-related illness, which can incur large costs for businesses with their employees off sick. The good news is that employers can take steps to help prevent MSDs before they occur. Below are some workplace adjustments you can introduce to help keep your staff working safely:

Workplace adjustments to avoid MSDs:

  • Encourage employees to take breaks/changes of activity from their workstations and walk around at least once every hour
  • Introduce a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) policy explaining to staff how their workstations should be set up and regularly check that this is being adhered to
  • Introduce new equipment, such as standing desks, for employees and encourage them to use these to limit the time spent seated
  • Move things like the printer or kettle away from all employees so that they have to get up and walk to use them
  • Share information with employees about desk exercises designed to prevent MSDs – such as these from the Health and Safety Executive

However, some MSDs are simply unavoidable. If someone returns to work at your workplace after developing an MSD, you should consider some of the below workplace adjustments to ensure they are comfortable and safe:

Workplace adjustments for those with MSDs:

  • Adjusting an employee’s usual duties – for example, if their usual job involves driving but this is aggravating their back pain, you could consider changes to their job role so they spend less time in the car
  • Offer flexible working – working from home may suit someone with an MSD more than travelling to the office each day, and they may need to attend regular rehabilitation or physiotherapy appointments
  • Adjust their working hours or work activities– for example, someone with an MSD may need a longer breaks in order to rest properly or may benefit from agreed shorter working days
  • Purchasing specialist furniture or equipment to help the employee with their work

For more information on how to manage and prevent MSDs in the workplace, visit the Fit for Work advice hub or phone 0800 032 6235. If you have an employee suffering from an MSD who has been off work for four weeks or more, you can refer them to Fit for Work by visiting and clicking ‘refer an employee’.


  1. David Gibbons

    Why is MSK physiotherapy never mentioned on this website? I am the occupational health physiotherapist for Sefton Council, who I think are very forward thinking. I KNOW I have success in saving the council money in sickness pay etc, yet generally physiotherapy is overlooked by many other councils.

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi David,
      Thank you for your comment. We will look into writing a blog on MSK physiotherapy soon.
      The Fit for Work team

  2. sandra Welch

    Hi fit for work team
    Ive noticed your information is based on workers who sit for most of the time,some of us have to spend most of our day standing up, bending down. and lifting, this causes a lot of pain and some of us would love to take a rest by sitting on a chaiir for a while, so could we please have some ideas on helping us releive our pain
    Kind regards

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Sandra,
      Thank you for your comment. We think that’s an excellent idea for a blog, so we will look into writing something on the subject soon.
      The Fit for Work team

  3. Kim Cant

    Rather than investing in expensive furniture why not spend the money on providing Alexander Technique lessons. The Alexander Technique is proven to help with back and neck pain. In two large clinical trials back pain was reduced by 86% and chronic neck pain by 31% after taking Alexander Technique lessons and the benefits were sustained over time as pain sufferers were made aware of how to prevent misuse of their body when carrying out daily activities such as sitting at a desk or driving a car.

  4. Krzysztof

    Hi Fit for Work team
    Are there possibilities of management options Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace in cold and damp conditions.
    Kind regards

    • Fit for Work team

      Hi Krzysztof,
      Thank you for your idea. We will look into writing something on that subject.
      The Fit for Work team

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