Musculoskeletal Health Program

Updated March 21, 2022

Fulfillment Center Employees Pushing Boxes Along Rollers

The NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Program works with outside partners in industry, labor, trade associations, professional organizations, and academia to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Featured Items

Exoskeleton Webinars Now Available
The Musculoskeletal Health Program hosts a webinar series. Six recent webinars on exoskeletons are now archived and available to watch on YouTube. Check out the webinar series.

Musculoskeletal Health in the NIOSH Science Blog
The NIOSH Science Blog provides an opportunity to learn about various workplace safety and health topics and exchange ideas with leading researchers from NIOSH. Check out NIOSH Science Blogs about musculoskeletal disorders.


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are soft-tissue injuries caused by sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion, force, vibration, and awkward positions. These disorders can affect the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and cartilage in your upper and lower limbs, neck and lower back. MSDs are most often caused by overexertion and can affect a worker’s ability to perform many job-related tasks, such as lifting, pulling, pushing, maintaining a natural posture, withstanding cold temperature, and withstanding torque reactions and vibrations from machinery and tools. Older workers may be more susceptible to MSDs (especially back pain), more likely to be hospitalized for MSDs, and more likely to have longer stays in the hospital for MSDs. MSDs, common among older workers, are a main contributor to the pain epidemic and have resulted in the overuse of opioids.

The mission of the NIOSH Musculoskeletal Health Program is to reduce the burden of work-related MSDs through a focused program of research and prevention that protects workers from MSDs, helps management mitigate related risks and liabilities, and helps practitioners improve the efficacy of workplace interventions. The Program collaborates with the NIOSH Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies (CWCS) on identifying industries with high risk for musculoskeletal disorders and determining effective interventions for reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. In addition, the Program collaborates with the NIOSH Center for Occupational Robotics Research (CORR) and the NIOSH Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies (NCDRST) on coordinating research projects focusing on emerging technologies for MSD prevention and providing assistance in making industry standards and guidelines.

Research Priorities

The Musculoskeletal Health Program has selected research priorities on the basis of burden, need, and impact and collaborated with other NIOSH research programs to write research goals included in the NIOSH Strategic Plan for FYs 2019-2024. The priority areas of research include:

  • Reduce exposure to vibration and repetitive motion among agriculture, forestry and fishing workers, especially considering the aging workforce
  • Promote use of MSD interventions among construction workers, considering the benefits and risks of emerging technologies like robots and drones, as well as exoskeletons
  • Promote use of MSD interventions among healthcare and social assistance workers, especially safe patient handling and mobility programs
  • Utilize emerging technologies to reduce MSDs among manufacturing
  • Identify, monitor, and address MSD risk factors among mining workers
  • Reduce back injuries among services workers
  • Reduce MSDs among wholesale and retail trade workers, with a special emphasis on aging workers and emerging technologies

The Musculoskeletal Health Program Performance One-Pager (PPOP) offers a snapshot of the Program’s priorities, strategies used to make progress towards priorities, recent accomplishments, and upcoming work.

Success Story: Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation
The Revised NIOSH Lifting Equation (RNLE) is a highly influential tool for preventing manual handling injury in the workplace. The equation helps users measure the position and capabilities of your body in relation to the object(s) you intend to lift, to tell you how to lift the object(s) without hurting yourself. It is the most popular and widely used publicly available resource ever created by the Musculoskeletal Health Program. Ergonomists, health and safety practitioners, and workers all over the world consider the NIOSH RNLE to be the international standard lifting equation for single, variable, and sequential tasks. Various European countries, such as Spain, Italy, and Germany, have used the NIOSH RNLE to develop their own lifting policies for manual handling tasks. You can now download the NIOSH RNLE Calculator app NLE Calc to your Apple and Android devices.

To learn more

More information and useful resources can be found on the Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders page.

NORA Council
The Musculoskeletal Health Program helps lead the NORA Musculoskeletal Health Council, which brings together individuals and organizations to share information, form partnerships, and promote adoption and dissemination of solutions that work. The council seeks to facilitate the most important research, understand the most effective intervention strategies, and learn how to implement those strategies to achieve sustained improvements in workplace practice. The complete National Occupational Research Agenda for Musculoskeletal Health can be found on the council’s website.

Contact Ming-lun (Jack) Lu, Musculoskeletal Health Program Co-Manager, at with questions.