Lower limb disorders
As an employer, you must protect your workers from the risks of developing lower limb disorders (LLDs) at work.
Lower limb disorders can affect the hip, thigh, knee, calf, ankle or foot. They include joint and soft tissue problems and can be caused or made worse by work. They may be either due to an acute injury or develop gradually over a period of time.
Protect your workers
You may not be able to prevent all cases of LLDs, but there are things you can do to help prevent symptoms or stop them getting worse, whether they are caused or made worse by work activities.
- assess tasks which may involve a risk of lower limb disorders
- put controls in place to protect your workers from the causes of LLDs at work
Consult and involve your workers and make sure they know how to report any injuries or symptoms.
A number of lower limb disorders are caused by overuse of joints and muscles. The best way to reduce risk is to design the work to avoid this, for example by:
- changing working methods
- providing mechanical aids
- rotating workers between jobs to lessen the time spent carrying out 'risky' tasks
- providing regular breaks
- providing seating, where possible
- providing, for example, knee pads or anti-fatigue matting
- providing information and training about the risks
Causes of lower limb disorders at work
These disorders are more common in tasks at work that involve, for example:
- repetitive kneeling and/or squatting
- climbing stairs or ladders
- heavy manual handling
- prolonged standing
Symptoms include aches and pains, reduced range of movement, tenderness, stiffness, weakness, cramp and swelling.
If an employee has any of these symptoms, they may suggest overuse or an underlying condition.
Several conditions can be caused or made worse by work, such as:
- hip and knee osteoarthritis
- knee bursitis
- knee meniscal lesions/tears
- stress fracture
- varicose veins of the lower legs
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the joints, for example, hips and knees. Farmers have a higher risk of suffering from hip osteoarthritis. Floor layers and cleaners have a higher risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.
Knee bursitis is caused by repetitive kneeling. It causes tenderness and swelling, and a reduction in knee movement.
Knee meniscal (cartilage) lesions/tear damage
If the knee is bent or twisted while bearing a load, the force may cause meniscal damage. Overuse, for example repetitive squatting or kneeling, is also associated with damage. This damage can lead to osteoarthritis.
Stress fractures are caused by repeated micro-injuries to bone. They are more common in the armed forces and in athletes, particularly long-distance runners.
Varicose veins are dilated veins of the leg. Workers may complain of heaviness and pain, legs swelling, night-time calf cramps and restless legs. They are associated with prolonged standing and heavy lifting.