The Cost of Overexertion

In 2018, nearly 300,000 cases of overexertion kept employees away from work, according to the BLS. Of these, 1/3 were injured when lifting or lowering objects. Injuries like these account for almost one-quarter (23%) of all occupational injuries and cost roughly $13.79 billion annually. Overexertion in this case refers to physical overexertion; when a person works beyond his/her physical capacity and tolerances.

When it comes to safety and health, the danger of overexertion is often underestimated. After all, we all suffer occasional pain and discomfort. However, minor repeated damage over time can be just as dangerous on your spine as one acute injury. Workers should report all injuries, including those causing prolonged or reoccurring pain.

Musculoskeletal Disorders and Overexertion

Overexertion often causes musculoskeletal disorders. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) refer to a number of injuries and disorders that affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and nerves. The lower back is the most commonly affected. Examples of musculoskeletal disorders include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and lower back injuries. An overexertion injury happens when a worker becomes fatigued or performs a job beyond his/her physical capabilities.

Minor injuries typically improve with medical care and preventative measures. However, if the worker doesn’t receive proper treatment and prevention, the pain can become chronic and can lead to problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.

The symptoms of MSD vary depending on the specific type, but can include:

  • Pain with or without restriction in movement,
  • Swelling and tenderness,
  • Reduced range of motion and/or stiffness, and
  • Tingling and/or numbness.

Risk Factors for Overexertion

When a task is not ergonomically designed, workers become prime candidates for overexertion injuries. Workers in many different industries and occupations can all be exposed to risk factors that increase the potential for injury.

  • Exerting Excessive Force – Lifting/pushing/pulling heavy items
  • Awkward Positions– Using positions that place stress on the body
  • Repetitive Motions – Continually or frequently repeating the same motion
  • Local Contact Stress – Pressing the body or part of the body against hard or sharp edges, such as using the hand as a hammer
  • Extreme Temperatures – Cold may increase the potential for MSDs to develop
  • Vibration –  This can cause a worker to lose feeling in the hands and arms.


The central idea of ergonomics is to adapt the work to the worker. It is important to remember that hazards can vary depending on the worker. For example, a tall worker may have to bend over to use a work surface whereas a shorter worker does not. So be sure to consider not only the job task but also the workers performing the job. Identify and assess the ergonomic risks. Create procedures or methods for how to perform a task safely and implement that plan in the workplace. Identify adjustments to the work environment as a means to improve body position and minimize stress.

Additionally, training workers on how to perform lifts and how to reduce strain can prevent an injury. Educating workers on how to apply ergonomics to their work and the benefits of doing so will encourage them to follow procedure and utilize any tools provided. Often, small changes can solve potential problems. Proper application of ergonomic principles can help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related MSDs.


  • Plan a lift before beginning; Require heavy loads to be carried by at least two people.
  • Keep the body in a neutral position.
  • Take frequent breaks; Stand up, walk around, and stretch to reduce fatigue.
  • Rotate workers to minimize repetitive motions.
  • Use devices to lift and reposition heavy objects (forklifts, pallet trucks, trolleys, etc.).
  • Use proper lifting techniques; Keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • When working at a desk, move items you frequently use close to you, adjust the height of your computer, and use a footstool.
  • Report pain, swelling, numbness, tingling, tenderness, clicking or loss of strength to your doctor before it becomes a full-blown injury.

Although overexertion causes thousands of injuries every year, these injuries can be prevented by following safe work practices. ReSolve can provide experienced safety specialists to identify overexertion or ergonomic hazards and make recommendations to reduce risk. We also provide OSHA compliant training that can teach your workers to recognize and avoid hazards. Contact us for additional information.

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