New research to help stem the rising tide of employee absence as a result of musculoskeletal conditions has been recognised by the Bupa Foundation, winning the medical research charity’s Health at Work Award 2008.
Musculoskeletal disorders represent the most common form of work-related ill-health problem in the UK, costing the economy approximately £7.4 billion per annum and the NHS around £150 million pounds in physiotherapy treatment.
Every week around 50 percent of people of working age will experience a musculoskeletal disorder, also known as an upper limb disorder (ULD). These conditions include, for example, a ‘frozen’ shoulder or tendon-related pain.
The Health & Safety Executive commissioned a team led through the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at the University of Huddersfield to look at how ULDs could be managed to help reduce the resulting estimated 4.2 million working days lost in the country per annum.
Improved communications between clinicians, employers and staff are essential for managing work-relevant ULDs.
The study found that a ‘biopsychosocial’ approach is needed. This means that while biological considerations should not be ignored, it is psychosocial factors that are most important.
This involves the assessment of lifestyle factors – in and out of work – and the implementation of personalised changes to ensure a focus on ability rather than disability.
Dr Kim Burton, consultant with the Centre for Health and Social Care Research, said: “The main point is to recognise that work is a major issue for ULDs. We should then try to ‘normalise’ the experience and focus on recovery rather than what’s happened, what the worker can do rather than what they can’t.
“We found that ULDs are not all related to work and that an early return to work actually contributes to the recovery process but this requires support from the workplace and healthcare. In essence, clinical treatment alone is not the answer, prevention is not the answer – the various players have to work together to achieve the best possible outcome.
“We are absolutely delighted to win the Bupa Foundation Health at work Award. It will enable us to create an educational booklet on ULDs to reach more workers and their employers. This will support and help people affected by such problems.”
Bupa’s group medical director and vice-chairman of the Bupa Foundation, Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, said:
“Muscoloskeletal disorders can prove costly for the individual, the business and health service providers. This research complements the Government’s report on the health of the working population, ‘Working for a healthier tomorrow’, and will help to find ways to manage ULDs in the most effective way.”
Dr Burton and the multidisciplinary team received their Bupa Foundation award at a ceremony at Lincoln’s Inn in London on the evening of 12 November 2008.