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Let’s Talk About Why ‘Musculoskeletal Issues’ Are on the Rise at This Accounting Firm

a stressed out person in black and white

Although I am not a loyal reader of Human Resource Executive I did come across an article they just did on CLA — also known by their confirmation name CliftonLarsonAllen — and the benefits HRE outlined in said article sound awesome. Flexible PTO, a wellness stipend, access to cognitive behavioral therapy for the employee as well as any of their family members above the age of 13…great. Keep it coming, accounting firms.

But you know this article isn’t going to be praise for employee perks. No, we’re going to call out how CLA transparently discusses a rise in ‘musculoskeletal issues’ in their workforce that prompted them to partner with a group offering virtual physical therapy.

Employee feedback, [CLA managing director of HR Patrick] Bowes says, was the most critical driver of the changes to the CLA benefits strategy, which was also informed by claims data. For instance, leadership has seen a rise in short-term disability applications, and thus eliminated its tiered structure for eligibility, so that all workers are covered at 100%. Noticing the rise of musculoskeletal issues among the workforce, it instituted a new partnership with a provider that offers virtual physical therapy. It also rolled out an option that allows employees to seek second opinions and treatments related to complex diagnoses at some of the best care centers in the country—at no cost to employees.

“If I have something I need treatment for—we’re seeing things like cardiac issues, cancer, orthopedic things—I can travel to the best centers for that specific care, bring a caretaker with me, be treated on site there and never see a bill for it,” Bowes explains.

Can we talk about this? Surely it’s not only CLA seeing an increase in these issues, it’s just that they were the ones who decided to talk openly about it for this one article. Should we be concerned? Is this the profession’s real crisis and not the talent shortage? WHY DOES EVERYTHING HURT?

It is known that stress has physical consequences. You are probably holding a bunch of it in your jaw and shoulders as you read this (friendly reminder to take a deep breath, loosen your jaw, and gently roll the tension out of your shoulders). This is from an American Psychological Association article on stress effects in the body:

When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress—the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain.

With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders.

For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and upper extremities has also been linked to stress, especially job stress.

Unfortunately it doesn’t end with tense shoulders. Stress can also cause respiratory problems, long-term problems in your heart and blood vessels, and it can even make you fat. Remember that old TV spot about cortisol?

p.s. That crap didn’t work.

Says APA:

Glucocorticoids, including cortisol, are important for regulating the immune system and reducing inflammation. While this is valuable during stressful or threatening situations where injury might result in increased immune system activation, chronic stress can result in impaired communication between the immune system and the HPA axis.

This impaired communication has been linked to the future development of numerous physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression, and immune disorders.

Here’s Mayo Clinic on what happens to your body when stress is always high and the physical response to it that was originally intended to help our ancestors avoid immediate threats like large, scary animals stays on:

The body’s stress response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on.

The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many health problems, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

Any of that sound familiar?

Friendly reminder to release the tension from your jaw again. And I’m just going to leave this here for anyone who might need it.

Why this accounting firm has rolled out 2 dozen benefits since COVID [Human Resource Executive]