Latest MSD Stats Point to Crucial Need for Early Diagnosis


Latest MSD Stats Point to Crucial Need for Early Diagnosis

Prolonged, undue suffering for injured workers and significant, unnecessary costs for payers can be largely eliminated. The technology for quick, objective assessments of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is not only available, but has already been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.

The latest evidence points to a rapidly increasing trend of mis- or undiagnosed soft tissue injuries. With the population aging and an increasing number of older people staying in the workforce, now more than ever we need to use every resource at our disposal to address the most prevalent injuries in the workers’ compensation system.

The Evidence

MSDs affect more than one out of every two people in the U.S. over the age of 18. The most common of these conditions are trauma, back pain and arthritis. The rate of MSDs far exceeds that of circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases.

Those figures are included in the latest edition of The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the U.S., published by the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative. The Initiative — the U.S. national action network of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health/Bone and Joint Decade, an international collaborative movement sanctioned by the United Nations/World Health Organization — advocates for and promotes multidisciplinary, coordinated and patient-centered care to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of MSDs. 

Its 4th edition compares facts and figures from the period 1996–1998 to the years 2012-2014. Here are some of the stats included:

  • Workdays lost to back or neck pain in 2012 — 290.8 million.
  • Number of people affected — 25.5 million.
  • Average number of workdays lost per person — 11.4.
  • The estimated annual cost to society of MSDs — $980.1 billion, or 5.76 percent of the U/S. gross domestic product. That figure is up from 3.44 percent of the GDP two decades ago.
  • The cost of treating major musculoskeletal diseases, which often includes long-term pain and disability, is also greater than that for treatment of many other common health conditions.

While MSDs affect people of any age, they are most prevalent among those 65 and older. In fact, three out of four have an MSD and 50 percent have some form of arthritis.

The percentage of older people — and older employees — is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. “By 2040, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will be 65 or older,” the report says, “about equal in size to the cohort of those who are 18 years of age or younger.”

One of the main reasons for extensive — and often inappropriate — treatment of MSDs is that diagnosing them has been more of an art than a science, until now. Physicians have had to rely on patient descriptions of their pain and imaging, such as MRIs, which are not always appropriate for MSD issues. While these are great tools for some diagnoses, they typically cannot pinpoint the true source of an MSD, as the structural issue found on the MRI may not be the actual source of the pain.

MRIs are designed to be extremely sensitive. Unfortunately, that provides little value for use in diagnosing soft tissue injuries, especially as we get older. The natural aging process is such that most everyone over the age of 40 will have an abnormal MRI, just because of degenerative changes.

Early, Accurate Diagnosis is Key

The sooner an injured worker is medically treated, the better his chances for a quicker and successful recovery. This is possible with MSDs via the Electrodiagnostic Functional Assessment, which uses the FDA-cleared technology that is changing the game for patients with soft tissue injuries.

Just as an EKG assesses the heart muscle, the EFA provides objective evidence of the skeletal muscle at rest, with usage, and with return to rest; all of which are key components in evaluating soft tissue injuries.

Getting an accurate diagnosis of an injury means the injured worker will get the treatment he needs; whether it is specific physical therapy, massage, or even just time to heal itself. This avoids many unnecessary, painful and expensive medical treatments, including the use of addictive medications.

One other feature of this technology that will become vitally important as the workforce ages is the ability to determine if a soft tissue injury arose out of a workplace injury, through the use of baseline and post-incident testing.


Strains and sprains are the leading cause of workplace injuries. In the past, they have been all but impossible to accurately diagnose. But thanks to advanced technology we now have the ability to objectively diagnose and properly treat these workers and get them back to functionality and work.