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Use PT to Rein In Musculoskeletal Pain and Costs

Use PT to Rein In Musculoskeletal Pain and Costs

Updated April 27, 2022 Originally published April 27, 2022
Danny Sanchez, PT, CEAS

$980.1 billion per year. That is the latest estimated annual cost to society of musculoskeletal (MS) disease. The figure represents 5.76 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product — up from 3.44 percent of the GDP two decades ago.

MS pain or disorder is an injury to the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, spinal discs, fascia or other soft tissue. These conditions are by far the leading cause of injuries among the workers we treat.

Not only are they expensive the longer they continue, but MS conditions are largely preventable. Wear and tear, bad posture and incorrect movements cause a majority of these ailments. Workers who are given preventive measures and shown the proper ways to move on the job are much less likely to suffer from MSDs, especially as reinjuries.

The Sobering Stats

The U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative just released the first chapters of its 4th edition of The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the U.S. The publication compares MSD facts and figures from 1996-1998 to the years 2012-2014. Here are some of the insights provided:

  • More than half of all adults in this country report having a chronic musculoskeletal condition, with nearly 3 out of 4 in the over 65 age group.
  • Trauma, back pain, and arthritis are the three most common musculoskeletal conditions.
  • Chronic low back pain, joint pain, and disability from arthritis comprise three of the top five most commonly reported medical conditions. The two non-musculoskeletal conditions are chronic hypertension and chronic high cholesterol.
  • More than 35 million adults in the workforce with a musculoskeletal condition reported lost work days in the previous 12 months, totaling nearly 364 million lost workdays.
  • The average number of lost workdays from MS disorders was 10 days, more than for any other major health condition.


There are a variety of factors that cause MSDs. Wear and tear of daily activities is one of the primary ones, as this can cause damage to muscle tissue. Trauma to an area, such as falls, dislocations, direct blows to the muscle and jerking movements are another. Others causes include:

  • Postural strain.
  • Repetitive movements.
  • Overuse. This affects 33 percent of adults. Among workers, lower back pain from overuse is said to be the most common work-related diagnosis.
  • Prolonged immobilization.

The aging of the U.S. population is likely to further impact the costs of MS disorders, since they are the largest group reporting them. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2060 the number of people 65 years of age or older will grow from 47.8 million, or 15 percent of the population, to 98.2 million, or 24 percent of the population. Many of these people will be in the workforce, making it incumbent on employers to do everything possible to mitigate the increasing trends of MS-related conditions.


Physical therapy provided to workers sooner rather than later can heal MS conditions and prevent recurrences. The best treatment targets the actual cause, so it’s important to understand whether the pain is related to bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons or joints. That’s why it’s necessary to have someone trained to assess the cause of the pain involved.

There are a variety of treatments. For examples, workers with spinal alignment problems can greatly benefit from manual therapy or mobilization, which also speeds recovery. Muscle strengthening and conditioning exercises along with stretching are best for other MS conditions. Therapeutic massage works well for other MS ailments.

The goal of PT for MS issues is twofold; providing immediate relief and improving overall function. Several strategies can best achieve these:

  • Hands-on assessment and treatment. Physical therapists are highly trained to properly manipulate the affected body parts to address the MS cause.
  • One-on-one treatment. Being left unsupervised and told to ride a stationary bike or do certain exercises may help somewhat, but it won’t get to the crux of the problem and typically lengthens the recovery process.
  • Consistency in therapists. Ideally, the same physical therapist should treat the injured worker throughout his recovery. In addition to saving time having to explain the situation to a new therapist, having the same person creates a bond and typically helps the injured worker become more engaged in his recovery.

Preventing Reinjuries

One of the best ways physical therapists can mitigate the increasing incidence of MS disorders is by explaining and showing injured workers how to move in ways that will keep their bodies flexible and injury free. That includes demonstrating proper posture and sitting, and educating them on the need to move throughout the day rather than remaining immobilized.

The other aspect of PT that is vital to prevent future injuries is by ensuring injured workers do their job tasks correctly; whether it is getting in and out of a truck, lifting equipment, working on an assembly line, or doing clerical work. Every task done by a worker should be undertaken in a manner that is not physically harmful. A physical therapist who goes to the job site and truly understands the daily responsibilities of a worker is in the best position to do this.


MS-related conditions take an enormous toll on workers and their employers, both from a financial and a human-toll standpoint. Businesses should work with physical therapists to make sure their workers are moving appropriately and doing everything they can to avoid these health problems.

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