Mounting evidence suggests that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) may be the result of a fatigue failure process in musculoskeletal tissues. Evaluations of MSD risk in epidemiological studies and current MSD risk assessment tools, however, have not yet incorporated important principles of fatigue failure analysis in their appraisals of MSD risk. This article examines the evidence suggesting that fatigue failure may play an important role in the aetiology of MSDs, assesses important implications with respect to MSD risk assessment and discusses research needs that may be required to advance the scientific community’s ability to more effectively prevent the development of MSDs.

Practitioner Summary: Evidence suggests that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) may result from a fatigue failure process. This article proposes a unifying framework that aims to explain why exposure to physical risk factors contributes to the development of work-related MSDs. Implications of that framework are discussed.