Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


'As a manager, it’s important that you think about your team’s wellbeing'


Musculoskeletal injuries cause much sickness absence, so managers need to minimise them and their effects

As a manager, it’s important that you think about your team’s wellbeing.

One way you can make an enormous difference to sickness absence and ill health is by monitoring and trying to prevent muscle and joint problems.

These are said to account for 30-40% of sickness absence in the NHS, and, together with stress-related problems, are the biggest cause of ill health in NHS staff.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and manual handling incidents can have a major effect on service delivery as well as lifelong effects on staff.

A 2009 study by the Work Foundation found MSDs accounted for nearly half of all absences from work in 25 European Union countries, and around 60% of permanent work incapacity, costing European economies up to €240bn per year.

It reported that early detection of and intervention in MSDs improved employees’ lives and performance, and reduced early retirements due to permanent disability and the burden on government health and disability budgets.

People with MSDs who continue to work and are supported to do so can experience health, social and psychological benefits that improve their productivity.

These findings echo many recommendations in NHS Employers’ Back Pack. Part of our Back in Work campaign, this provides NHS staff and employers with information to reduce MSDs and ensure a speedy return to work for people affected. Partnership for Occupational Safety and Health in Healthcare - part of the NHS Staff Council - is working on adding training and the need to have accredited manual handling trainers to the Back Pack.

Most important is to get the individual back to work. As long as it has been adjusted to reflect capability, work is the best medicine. It is better for staff, employers and patients.

Ten tips to manage musculoskeletal injury

  • Early detection and intervention are key to a speedy resolution
  • People with these injuries who keep working recover more quickly
  • Manual handling training is essential
  • All activities that place staff at risk should be subject to evidence-based risk assessment
  • Work closely with the employee and jointly agree a fit for work plan
  • Keep in regular contact to review the fit for work plan goals
  • Manual handling is not just about lifting - it is also about moving objects, using equipment and fitness to work
  • Partnership working between employers, staff and staff representatives is essential for a safe and supportive working environment
  • Policies should consider fitness to work, rehabilitation and redeployment

See Back Pack, National Back Exchange or the charity BackCare websites

Julian Topping is the programme lead for health, work and wellbeing at NHS Employers. He ran childcare facilities for more than 20 years, moving to NHS Employers when it was founded in 2005.


Readers' comments (3)

  • There are a lot of more mature staff that carried out moving and handling techniques that weren't safe, but without the sophisticated equipment available nowadays, had little choice. I might add, it was expected to carry out such tasks too. For instance, kneeling on a bed of an orthopaedic patient, and holding them up off the bed with arms out stretched, whilst your colleague washed, dried and applied any lotions or potions. Beds were of a static height too. Baths were of a height, low like yours at home, and 'lifting them in and out' of the bath with a twisted towel under their arms, not good for the paient either!! I don't think this practice is taken into account as an accumilative effect of injury to nurse's backs. Oh, and there was the 'Australian lift'.

    Having said all that, with all the equipment available, it seems there is still a huge problem. Having experienced 'both worlds' manoevering the equipment into place can be quite a challenge and produce current and future musculoskeletal problems.

    To bring another aspect into this, when pensionable age increases, how many appeals for early retirement to cummulative injury and stress will be excepted?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • sorry about the 't' omitted from 'patient' in the first paragraph, line 10.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I trained in the 1970s and they must have taught us something right as throughout my career despite a being tall and skinny, with a lot of heavy and sometimes very awkward lifting, and latterly in my career often alone, especially on the long nights, I never had a musculoskeletal injury and have enjoyed so far for the past few years a sportive and healthy retirement.

    I whinged in my last job in an old peoples' home though when I was expected to lift obese patients - first washing their lower parts in bed and turning them, then helping put on some clothing, helping them out of bed into a wheelchair, pushing them into a small and narrow bathroom and then on and off the toilet and then to the washbasin where they could finish their wash and in the meantime making their bed, also alone, then helping complete their dressing and pushing them down to the breakfast room and then toileting them after breakfast and all this in a hurry as the procedure in the morning had to be repeated for about five patients some less mobile and overweight than others. This would also include one or two showers, or baths (with the help of a mechanical hoist and getting them on and off the sit-down weighing scales)! Not my idea but the procedure we were expected to follow and as it was a new job I did not have too much to say!

    When one day, I requested assistance to carry out this procedure with a particularly obese lady I was told I could do it myself. As it was pre-retirement and a life of gardening to look forward to I protested gently that I did not wish to injure my back to which the reply from the Director of Nursing (hands on nurse) was that 'we all have bad backs here' and from then on I was perceived in a poor light by the two directors, of the home and of nursing and all my colleagues. All the staff had been on a special course and I was too new, but soon left and with my back, fortunately, still intact!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.