Prevention and treatment of work-related musculoskeletal disorders through a holistic understanding of biomechanical and psychosocial factors in occupational and clinical practice

Although there has been a progressive increase in ergonomic knowledge and public effort, the number of individuals affected by work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD) remains at a similar level since 2008. It is generally assumed that WMSD are to a considerable extend related to undesirable work demands and with regard to the prevention and treatment of WMSD, it seems particularly promising to put the focus on research of risk factors of WMSD, because prevention measures can be well implemented in the companies through legal regulations.

However, further findings are required from which quantifiable damage limits and treatment doses for relevant influencing factors can be derived. The project workHEALTH therefore aims at the interdisciplinary investigation of cross-sectional topics regarding the aetiology and the development of WMSD to allow better prevention and treatment that are more effective in reducing the prevalence of WMSD. For this purpose, a multi-methods approach is used in workHEALTH, simultaneously applying a variety of state-of-the-art data collection methods and instruments, such as in vitro investigations of human intervertebral disc specimens and articular cartilage, in vivo measurements of joint forces and moments, interviews and self-report questionnaires with psychosocial and other difficult to measure factors, calculation of joint forces and moments by means of motion capture and biomechanics modelling, accelerometer to measure objective health behaviour as well as electromyography. The workHEALTH project will provide advances in knowledge in the field of biomechanical and psychosocial factors influencing WMSD for all WMSD-relevant joints and body regions. A holistic approach was chosen, starting with prevention at the workplace, the behavior of the person and their individual characteristics, the time of illness and treatment up to reintegration into working life. The combined use of data collection methods of collective and individual approaches can provide new insights into risk indicators for WMSD.

The added value of interdisciplinary collaboration in workHEALTH consists in particular in the fact that the collective approach to occupational health and safety are brought together with the individual approach to medicine, as the actors and disciplines involved in WMSD practice (e.g. medicine, physiotherapy, occupational practice and work design) will be better networked. In particular, the differences between the individual approach to medicine and the collective approach to occupational safety and health and their mutual implications will be understood. This will improve coordination between disciplines, enabling better prevention, workplace design, diagnosis, treatment and reintegration. The concrete measures developed in workHEALH are primarily intended to prevent the emergence of WMSD and thus lead not only to a relief of the German social systems but also to a greater general well-being of the people, as is known. The knowledge gained will also be used in the treatment of WMSD patients with the aim of faster recovery and the avoidance of chronification.