Physical therapists play an active role in the care and prevention of Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace. Musculoskeletal pain refers to pain in the muscles, tendons, bones, joints, ligaments and nerves of the body. These MSDs are detrimental to the employee’s health, expensive for the business, and lead to lost time and turnover. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders are the largest healthcare expense in the U.S. Taken on in the form of workers’ compensation claims, MSDs account for over $50 billion dollars a year – many of which, may be preventable.
In a world that has seen vast changes in automated tasks and technology, one would expect to see changes in ergonomics and updates in training principles. Many times however, businesses and employees are left reacting to injuries instead of actively incorporating updates and training to prevent them.
The most direct way physical therapists can help keep employees both safe and productive is by treating them as an “industrial athlete.” Employees are often performing physically demanding work with specific activities throughout their day. We know from years of studying athletes that education and training of biomechanics, overall wellness, and personal involvement can improve performance and decrease risk of injury. These same principles apply to the industrial athlete.
There are many ways physical therapists can help keep employees safe and productive. Prevention offers the most opportunity for change. That might include onsite injury prevention, ergonomics assessments, or a warm up/stretching routine.
The purpose of onsite injury prevention is to provide OSHA first aid care to employees while they are at work. This access to care for a variety of non-work related injuries can help an employee that may otherwise use unsafe techniques while trying to “tough it out” at work. This can help employers mitigate work comp costs and avoid interruptions in productivity by treating employees experiencing movement-related pain or discomfort without progressing to an OSHA recordable injury.
A skilled physical therapist can also perform an ergonomic assessment, observing an employee while they perform their job making note of awkward positions, mechanics, and postures. A physical therapist will provide recommendations on how to adjust postures and mechanics, for training and the possibility of equipment changes for improving productivity and decreasing risk of injury.
Many people now have the option to work in remote settings where their workstations may be less than ideal. Some may be working at a kitchen table, a small desk in the basement, or a laptop in their recliner. Without proper ergonomics in mind, employees may suffer from musculoskeletal disorders like back and neck or shoulder pain and the pain may become worse over time without adjustments. A trained physical therapist can advise on the use of micro breaks, eye fatigue, monitor and phone placement, chair depth and adjustments, lighting, and keyboard height for an ergonomically-sound and most importantly, pain-free setup.
It’s a well-known fact among athletes that a proper warm-up is critical to injury prevention and improved performance. The same can be said about a company’s workforce. Athletico’s Stretch & Flex program takes a full-body approach, teaching our industrial athletes how focus on strength and range of motion while incorporating balance and coordination techniques. The 5-7 minute routine aims to get the entire body warmed up and moving dynamically, promoting blood flow and waking up the cardiovascular system so employees can start their workday strong.
Physical therapists can offer a variety of solutions for preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace keeping employees both safe and productive. We’ve built proven programs that reduce cost, promote wellness, treat on the job injuries when they occur and return workers to their jobs with minimal risk for future injuries. To learn more about how we can help design safer workplaces, visit our Worker’s Compensation webpage.
1. “‘Musculoskeletal Disorders and the Workplace: Low Back and Upper Extremities.’” National Academies Press: OpenBook, www.nap.edu/read/10032/chapter/1#ii.