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How can you support your college students with musculoskeletal disorders?

From affected joints to aching bones, musculoskeletal disorders can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life.

Unfortunately, many of the adult population are affected by these sorts of conditions and this can massively impact their quality of life.

College providers must therefore consider how their own students are affected by these sorts of conditions and what they can do to help.

If you don’t have procedures in place to cater to students with such problems, you must. Above all that, you must also ensure that such conditions aren’t caused by the environment of your college premises.

Is there a way that college providers can help those who suffer from such pain? And, what preventative action can they take to stop these types of disorders developing? Read on as we explore the issues further.

One in four of British adults have a musculoskeletal disorder

Believe it or not, one in four of British adults have a musculoskeletal disorder. Based on data gathered in 2016/17, 45% of musculoskeletal disorders are to do with the upper limbs or neck, 38% to do with the back, and 17% involve the lower limbs.

There is a downward trend of musculoskeletal disorders per 100,000 from 2001 to 2017, but it’s still an issue that must be considered. If one of your students suffers from a musculoskeletal disorder, they might have issues with their attendance.


With such a high percentage of UK adults suffering from such conditions, you’ll likely have someone on your team that does. What can college teachers do to make learning and achieving goals more possible for these students? And potentially reduce the number of days missed from attending college?

Can your students work from home?

Remote working is one area that you could look into if your students with musculoskeletal disorders have issues with attendance. Provide them with the option to work from home a couple of days per week with the help of learning materials in a digital format and a face-to-face chat via Skype, to ensure they don’t fall behind which could lead to further pressures and strains.

If the students are not based close by the college, alleviating them from a commute to college everyday could be beneficial. Instead, students can stay at home where they may feel more comfortable and get on with their studies — reducing stress and promoting wellbeing.

If you allow your students with musculoskeletal disorders to work from home when necessary, they’re likely be more flexible and attend any doctors and physio appointments in their own time.

Perhaps their rehabilitation centre is closer to home than it is from college, and less time may be spent getting to and from their sessions than if they were travelling from college lessons.

Can you buy specialist equipment for your students?

To help make your college students more comfortable in the classroom, why not buy specialist equipment to help them out?

Examples of these include:

  • Sitting or standing desks — Giving students the option of a sitting or standing desk is one way to help. For some, standing upright may be more comfortable than sitting in the same position for a prolonged period.
  • Ergonomic keyboard — These are designed to reduce muscle strain and should be offered to employees. For sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders, tasks that may be easy for some such as using a keyboard, mouse or pen can be difficult for someone who suffers with repetitive strain injury for example. Those with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome may also struggle with these types of tasks.
  • Lifting assistance — Where lifting and carrying books or art materials is concerned, to and from class or the library for example, offering assistance with heavy lifting can be helpful. A trolley for example can help students transport objects that they might be struggling with. This may relieve shoulder pain for example and can help prevent further injury and strain.
  • Other equipment — By talking to students, college teachers can find out about other types of specialist equipment that could be helpful — tailored to each person and their needs.

Could your college offer free therapy?

For back pain relief and mental wellbeing, could you potentially offer your students complementary therapy? Your college may already offer different types of therapy but is it specific to sufferers of musculoskeletal disorders?

This could also help reduce stress levels for individual students and increase the number of days spent in college. There is a clear link between musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and lifestyle productivity.

In fact, depression is four times more common amongst people in persistent pain compared to those without pain.

Ensuring that all students have someone to talk to if they are feeling under pressure is important and encouraging positive energy throughout your group of students with social events can also help.

If students are feeling extra stress, it could be worth looking into hiring extra teaching assistants or referring the students for therapy for example.

Why not encourage yoga lessons too? There are many ways that colleges could encourage their students to participate in this exercise — through organised classes at lunchtimes or after work, or through funding the classes.

Although expensive, it’s possible that this extra exercise will help manage pain levels, boost wellbeing and reduce the number of days missed from college.

Other ways that you can support your college students

Making sure that your students feel valued is essential. What else can college providers do to support their students with musculoskeletal disorders?

  • Promote good communication inside and outside of college — college should take time to learn about each of their students and their individual issues and requirements. This way, appropriate changes can be made within the college environment, which can encourage students to come to their teachers with problems and suggestions.
  • Recognising and being aware of the conditions early on — If a student has recently been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal issue, they should be encouraged to tell their college as soon as possible. This allows for the college to intervene early and get the measures in place that will encourage the student to return to college and learning as soon as they can.
  • Creating a ‘return-to-college’ programme — For those who have sustained an injury, creating a phased return could be beneficial for them. This reduces the risk of them taking a long period of leave from college through appropriate adjustments in their learning environment.
  • If you have someone with such conditions, you must be aware of the triggering factors. College staff should encourage their students to take breaks or move away from their desks/chairs frequently (at least once every hour).

Lee Dover is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in healthcare as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.


State of Musculoskeletal Health 2017 report — Arthritis Research UK

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