Musculoskeletal Health in the Workplace: Why it's Probably Your Biggest Issue
Musculoskeletal conditions, disorders and injuries are the leading cause of disability. Musculoskeletal conditions, which can comprise of over 150 diagnoses and range from arthritis and gout, all the way to low back pain, affect nearly half of all Americans. This means at any given time, the average workplace could have as many as half (perhaps more depending on industry) of their employees experiencing some sort of MSK issue during the year.
Musculoskeletal conditions are reported by half of all American adults and accounts for 10% of all healthcare spending in the US. To put this into perspective, treating musculoskeletal conditions exceeds the cost of treating every type of cancer combined.
A Glance at Some MSK Numbers:
Musculoskeletal conditions are reported by half of all American adults.
6% of the population report being unable to do "at least one common activity unaided" due to a musculoskeletal disorder.
Musculoskeletal conditions and disorders (MSDs) account for 10% of all healthcare spending in the US (more than any cancer combined)
Each year, treatment costs and indirect costs (like lost work time) add up to about $874 billion or 5.7% of total U.S. GDP.
Despite the enormous direct and indirect costs, musculoskeletal disorders accounted for less than 2% of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget each year.
Musculoskeletal in the Workplace Numbers:
In the workplace, MSDs account for 16% of an employer's healthcare budget.
Each year, workers with neck and back pain miss an average of 11.4 days of work.
Occupations that had among the highest number of MSD cases that resulted in days away from work: laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, and nursing assistants. Each of these occupations account for 5% or more of the total MSD cases in the private sector.
The likelihood of an employee reaching age 65 and needing joint replacement surgery has risen dramatically over the last 40 years. Today, there is over a 12% chance a worker will require a replacement before 65.
Across all industries, musculoskeletal conditions are one of the largest if not the single largest expense for employers.
How MSK Conditions Are Affecting Your Workplace
Statistics show that the costs associated with MSDs are the single highest medical cost for employers in the country. It's estimated on average that MSDs account for 16% of an employer's total healthcare budget. This estimate doesn't take into account indirect costs and profit loss due to reduced productivity, presenteeism, workflow disruption, training temporary employees, etc. These direct and indirect MSD costs are expected to increase as our working population gets older, more injured workers' are having invasive surgeries, and these conditions are not properly being treated, prevented, or optimized for.
Let's take a deeper look into how unoptimized MSK conditions, injuries, and resulting treatments are affecting your organization.
High Stakes + High Costs
Whether a workers' MSK condition is due to an injury, like pulling one's back lifting a heavy object, or an ongoing disorder like osteoarthritis or spondylosis, the effects ripple throughout the organization. With MSDs, there are continued direct and indirect profit losses associated with each claim. For instance, if an injured worker or employee on short-term disability not only has associated medical costs, but also requires a recovery time before rejoining the workforce.
As jobs become more nuanced and smaller teams take on more responsibility, an individual workers' workload isn't simply transferred to new or existing team members. Absence management strategy is often overlooked or not part of the discussion when organization's build a 'musculoskeletal workplace strategy'. When combined, extended workplace absenteeism, failing to reduce return-to-work at full duty rates, not actively preventing re-injury, not controlling physical therapy costs, post-op costs, and RX utilization, all amount to overpaying for each MSK case.
The average hip or knee replacement patient incurs $1,800 in direct healthcare expenses that could be avoided.
MSDs Are Often More Than Just Physical...
When it comes to musculoskeletal conditions, treatment can be too focused on physical therapy. Although physical therapy is an important piece of the puzzle for your injured worker's or patient's recovery from lower back pain, shoulder injury, osteoarthritis, etc., it is just that: one piece of the puzzle. In order for a patient to fully and wholly recover, a comprehensive treatment approach needs to be taken. This means treatment, PreHab, ReHab/ recovery that speaks to the mental, physical, and even environmental health of the individual.
When it comes to really getting to the root cause of a musculoskeletal condition or injury and treating it fully and comprehensively, all aspects that affect health need to be integrated into treatment. All factors can be broken down into 'five pillars of health': Physical Therapy, Nutrition, Health Literacy, and Environmental Preparation, Pain & Anxiety.
Particularly, it's been proven time and time again in numerous studies that musculoskeletal conditions, especially back pain, are linked to mental and emotional health. In fact, a study that examined back pain found that "42% of patients experienced the onset of depression prior to the onset of pain, whereas 58% experienced depression after the pain began.” Read more on depression and chronic pain..
Not Looking to Prevention and Re-Injury
When treating an injured worker with a musculoskeletal condition, disease or injury, the whole person needs to be treated. Touching on the various physical and emotional factors that influence health is critical. However, recalibrating the individual and giving them new tools to manage pain, improve their daily habits, and understand red flags and vulnerabilities for re-injury is just as important.
An injured worker that reaches the milestone of returning to work shouldn't just cease their treatment or pause their recovery. Instead, general maintenance and continued behaviour-altering guidance needs to be offered. The subsequent 90 days after an injury or surgery, is key for not just healing but for building a new foundation that is less permeable to re-injury. In addition to providing support through recovery, an ongoing maintenance program that guides the injured worker through a flare-up should be in place to avoid going back to ground zero.
The good news: if musculoskeletal costs are your single highest healthcare expense (directly or indirectly), there's a lot you can do. Encouraging musculoskeletal health in the workplace and treating injured workers with MSK issues remains largely untapped. Investing in a MSK solution that treats the whole patient, gets to the core of the issue and prevents re-injury, and actually lowers direct and indirect costs is possible.