Print bookPrint book

A3 Musculoskeletal Awareness


Site: Fife Council E-Learning Site
Course: Manual Handling Theory - Module A for Fife Council Partner Organisations
Book: A3 Musculoskeletal Awareness
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Thursday, 5 December 2019, 7:55 pm

Musculoskeletal Awareness

Spine and MusclesThis section provides information about the structure and function of the musculoskeletal system. It is made up of the skeleton, as well as joints and the soft tissues around these joints such as muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.   

Signs and Symptoms of MSD’s

SpineThe term Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues anywhere in the body.   Signs and symptoms can vary between different people and can be found in more than one body area. 

 Symptoms can include:





Heat / redness


Pins and needles or numbness

Structure and Function of the Musculoskeletal System

The Spine

Is the central component of the body around which all movement occurs.  It is constructed of a series of individual bones called vertebrae which are arranged in such a way to create the four natural curves of the spine.  These curves create an ‘S’ shape which gives it both strength and flexibility.  The spine has 4 regions as listed below:



 The main functions of the spine are to:


Provide support for the rest of the body

Allow movement

Protect the spinal cord

Act as a shock absorber 


Muscles – These can lengthen and shorten to allow us to move.  There are different layers of muscles. The deeper muscles act to help maintain correct posture and core stability.


Tendons – These are strong and attach the muscles to bone and assist muscles to contract.


Ligaments – These are also strong and hold the bones together keeping the joint in place.


The Spinal Cord – Is a bundle of nerve tissue extending from the brain and passes down through the middle of the vertebrae. Nerves branch off from the spinal cord at each vertebral level and transmit information to and from the various body structures.


Spinal Cord

Inter-Vertebral Discs

The discs are situated between each vertebrae. They have a jelly like substance in the centre which acts as a “shock absorber” to protect the spine when there is an impact from an activity. The discs have a strong material called fibrous cartilage around the outside which provides protection for the spine and nerves. The discs also provide the spine with a degree of flexibility and movement.

Causes of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD's)

Musculoskeletal disorders can occur suddenly or gradually.  Sometimes the damage is sudden, for example when supporting an object that is just too heavy particularly if you are in a poor posture.  But most often the damage is gradual with medium amounts of stress and strain building up over a number of weeks months or even years.


In addition there may well be other reasons why you might be more prone to injury such as: 


Being overweight – the extra weight puts pressure on the spine.

Smoking – this may be due to tissue damage in the back caused by smoking.

Being pregnant – the extra weight of carrying a baby can place additional strain on the back.

Long-term use of medication known to weaken bones – such as corticosteroids.

Stress – stress is thought to cause tension in the muscles which can lead to back or neck pain.


You are about to learn more about the most common physical causes of musculoskeletal disorders, however research shows that they are seldom caused by one single factor - usually it is when a number of different risk factors combine that pain and injury occur. You will learn about other causes at Section A4 (Manual Handling Risk Assessment)

High Risk Handling Practices



Warning TriangleThere are many physical causes which can make it more likely that you will develop a musculoskeletal disorder. They all represent higher risk handling situations and should be avoided wherever possible:-  


Click the play button to learn more about these physical causes. 



***   For employees working with people who require assistance with moving and handling   ***


There are additional higher risk activities that must be avoided as they can cause injury to the employee and the person being moved.

Click here for more information about these high risk people handling practices.

Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD's)

The following are things you can do to help yourself.   Put these preventative measures into practice at all times, not just at work but also when at home. 



Stay active and take regular exercise.

Think about your posture and change your position frequently, get up and stretch.

For computer work, ensure that you adjust your chair and workstation.  

Sit up comfortably in a chair that supports your lower back.

Take regular breaks.

Vary your tasks.


Apply the safer manual handling principles at all times (see section A5)

Managing Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSD's)

What to do if you do develop a Musculoskeletal Disorder.  

Injury Treatment   It is important to do something about a musculoskeletal disorder as soon as possible. 



If there is anything in your workplace which is contributing to or causing the problem?

You are entitled to have reasonable adjustments made to your job.  If your musculoskeletal disorder is work related then it is important to identify problems to your manager, so the situation can be assessed and further changes made where necessary.

If you require occupational health support you can be helped to remain in work or helped to make an earlier return to work. 

You can get more information from the NHS Musculoskeletal Zone

Click to move to A4 Manual Handling Risk Assessment