Preventing Injuries at Work

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As a Physical Therapist, I see patients that are treated for a wide array of injuries, some of which are acquired while working. These injuries range from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to calf strains, headaches to radiating leg pain (Sciatica). Many of the injuries can be minimized if not prevented by remembering the simple A-B-C's.

A - Awareness/Adjustments
B - Body Mechanics
C - Care/Conditioning

A - Awareness/Adjustments

Many injuries are due to repetitive movements and fatigue resulting from natural stresses and strains on the body. Posture that is maintained for too long are exposed to cumulative stresses and strains. Poor posture can place these stresses and strains in areas of the body that are weak, resulting in pain and excessive wear. During a normal work day , 8 hours are demanded on one's body. Usually these 8 hours do not allow for movement out of prolonged positions. Being aware of your work environment can be 1/3rd of one's solution. For example, a person who's job responsibilities include computer inputting can prevent headaches and shoulder or neck pain by a few modifications. Simply placing their keyboard so that elbow are even with one's waist, wrists in neutral (neither bent down or up) and approximately one foot in front of one's body eliminated excessive demands on your arms, shoulders, and neck. Placing the monitor level with your eyes, so that one's neck is not back or down eliminates excessive strain on the eyes and the neck. Another simple modification includes having a back support in one's chair and having one's feet in a position to allow your legs to be level with your hip eliminates excessive wear on the lowback. Moving frequently to change the stresses from low to high. What does this mean? In general, posture should require minimal effort, but should be changed frequently to avoid muscular fatigue .

B - Body Mechanics

Once again, posture is a key in proper body mechanics. When going through back school, I instruct my patients to pretend that there is a board in the front and one in the back of their body. In other words, try to keep your back as straight as possible at all times. This is done by remembering the basics of -head up, shoulders back, chest out, stomach and rear-end in and back straight!- Poor posture and incorrect body mechanics are two of the leading causes of back and neck pain and injury.

When lifting heavy objects - widen your feet, squat from your hips and not your waist. Do not twist especially while bending and tighten your stomach! One's legs are a great deal stronger than one's back. Your abdominals (stomach) attaches to the front of your back, therefore when you pretend that you are about to be punched and still breath - you protect your back because of using your abdominals. Use common sense, use the stronger muscles - use your legs when lifting. If lifting a light object - use the golfer's technique: the back is straight, one leg is straight, one arm is used for balance, the opposite leg is extended (in back of you) and the object is picked up by the arm not balancing. Try pushing objects with legs not pulling them towards you. When reaching for objects stay within your arms length without twisting. If it is further than arms length, get up!

C - Care/Conditioning

Eating, sleeping and exercise are vital when preventing injury and keeping a healthy body. Dietary habits are addressed every day. The basics - fruits, vegetables, protein and low fat help keep the body happy and healthy. Sleep should be approximately 8 hours with good sleeping posture. The neck should be neither bent or extended, it should be gently supported. The legs should also be supported with either one or two pillows. Patients reply: - I can't sleep like that - I move around too much! - That is OK, the first hour is the most important. The center of the spine (the nucleus) depends solely on absorption from surrounding structures - kind of like a sponge. It absorbs 80% of it's nutrition in the first hour of sleep. When the legs are supported, it opens up the spinal segment to allow for maximal absorption. For my patients with continued back pain or problems, I instruct them to lie down with their legs elevated for an extra 1/2 hour daily. This allows for an extra 40% of nutrition to the spine. Exercise should incorporate strengthening, endurance and flexibility. 30 minutes at least 4 times a week is recommended. This can also be achieved at work by parking your car further away and walking,. taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking a message over to someone instead of calling. Also remember to stand up - stretch - and walk around at least once an hour. You will be surprised how easy this is to do and how much better your body will feel when practicing these simple suggestions.

In summary, common sense is the best practice on the job. Remember the A-B-C's and if you have a specific problem or injury, don't suffer in silence. Your doctor and physical therapist are just a phone call away.

Updated on: 12/10/09
Todd Albert, MD
Work injuries are a leading cause of lost productivity and wages both for the injured worker and the company. The recommendations in this article are extremely helpful and should be attended to in attempts to reduce this significant problem.
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