Human Performance and Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.

Managing Workplace Injuries

Following up on our previous blog post, we also received some great tips from Birmingham clinician Morgan Jackson, PT, DPT on managing workplace injuries.

  1. Know Your Body: It’s important to monitor any aches and pains that begin to appear. The earlier you catch the injury the better – if injuries last more than 2-3 weeks, it’s time to see someone. Recovery can be much quicker, and you can avoid more serious issues that could require surgery and/or physical therapy.
  2. Know Your Symptoms: Dull aches that go away may be normal, but a persistent burning sensation or sharp pain may indicate that it’s time to see someone.
  3. Know Your Situation: If your activity level has changed, pains may be expected, but if your activity level hasn’t changed and you aren’t doing a new job with different movements – it may be time to see a therapist.

Most small strains or overuse injuries go away after two weeks, if the proper adjustments and rest are performed.  It’s important to see a doctor if the pain persists to avoid a more serious injury, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome, that could require surgery and/or physical therapy.

This is also an important time to talk to your employer’s HR team (or the person in charge of injury prevention, such as a safety manager) about your pain.  They can review the setup of your work area, chair and look at your posture to help you get into a more comfortable position.

Be sure to ask questions about the changes they suggest so you have a full understanding of the reasons for the changes.  And finally, if you don’t already have it, now would be a good time ask for any materials they have on injury prevention.

Preventing Workplace Injuries

We recently spoke with Birmingham clinician, Morgan Jackson, PT, DPT, about preventing workplace injuries. She shared great tips on how employees and employers can work together to prevent injuries and build a workplace where employees thrive.

Employees:

  1. Know your policies: Many workplaces have injury prevention plans in place. Reach out to the HR team or safety manager at your company to see if they have a program.  The tips they provide can be as simple as proper posture, setting up your chair properly and the correct placement of your monitor and keyboard.
  2. Take breaks: Take micro break every 20 minutes to stand up and stretch or move a bit. Then, most importantly, follow their guidelines and if you start to feel pain such as a sore back, wrist or shoulder ask them to come back for a tune-up.
  3. Escalate when appropriate: If pain persists more than 2-3 weeks, it may be time to see someone before it gets worse.

Employers:

  1. Have a policy and follow up: The most important thing the employer can do is have an injury prevention plan in place that can be tailored to each employee. But as important is the follow up and reinforcement.  Have a plan that starts on day one, but continues to educate and remind employees.
  2. Set up employee work stations: If in an office environment, help employees set up their work area in the proper way, including desk, chair, monitor, keyboard and mouse and explaining proper sitting posture to the employee.
  3. Don’t just tell the what, explain the why: Explain what things SHOULD feel like, but more importantly, explain why it’s important and what can happen if they don’t take direction properly.

Hurt on the Job? You May Need a Functional Capacity Evaluation

Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE) are full body assessments that are performed to determine an individual’s ability to safely return to work at pre-injury status or to determine if work modifications are necessary to allow the employee to safely resume their job. FCE’s are commonly used for:

  • Employees that have suffered musculoskeletal work related injuries and an evaluation is requested to determine their physical abilities in comparison to the demands of a target job
  • Establishing a disability claim
  • A generic test to assess an individual’s current physical ability when the job goal is unknown

The Process

Your therapist or trainer will request a job description for review to assure all job demands are evaluated. The results of the FCE are then compared to the job description. If the client does not meet all the job demands, the evaluator will determine if the employee is a candidate for a work reconditioning program and recommendations will be made to the physician ordering the exam.

The length of the test and the number of days required to complete testing will vary depending on the injured body part. Hand, elbow, and shoulder exams are performed on one day and take approximately 4 hours to complete. Spine, hip, knee, foot, and ankle exams are performed over two separate days, taking approximately a total of 6-8 hours to complete. Clients are asked to dress in clothing and shoes that permit them to safely perform the presented tasks, and that information is provided prior to the day of testing.

The test may be executed by a physical therapist, occupational therapist, athletic trainer, or a kinesiologist. The test items are designed to determine cardiovascular fitness, lifting capabilities, strength, balance, and hand coordination. In order to perform the test, the individual must be medically stable and have met maximum medical improvement as determined by their physician.

Sit Up Straight: How Workplace Posture Impacts Health

For a growing number of professionals, the cumulative effects of working behind a desk can take their toll. Years of pecking away at a computer and talking on the phone can lead to a variety of issues, including headaches, stiffness, and pain in the shoulders, middle back and neck. There’s hope, though. These issues can be effectively addressed through physical therapy and by making adjustments to your everyday posture.

We see patients routinely who experience pain that we can link directly to the way they sit at work. The modern world has created all sorts of demands that don’t square with our bodies’ natural movements. We are not designed to perch in uncomfortable chairs six to eight hours a day, and as the years go by, our body rebels by expressing pain. Physical therapists address these issues by using interventions that can effectively remove stiffness. We also help patients strengthen muscles in the upper back to provide additional support to the neck and shoulders. And, we make specific recommendations for postural adjustments so that pain does not return.

Improving the way you sit at a desk goes a long way. Here are some recommendations:

  • Your feet should touch the floor completely. For people under 5’5”, this can be a challenge as most desks are made for taller people. Use a box or stool if needed.
  • You should be able to place your forearm on your desk or your elbows on arm rests while typing at a keyboard.
  • Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle when you sit, making sure your knees are in line with your hips.
  • Don’t crane your neck to talk on the phone. Use a headset.
  • Ideally, your computer screen should be at eye level.

One of the most important issues to remember is that the body doesn’t like being stagnant. Set a timer and take a “micro-break” every 20 minutes. I can hear the work-a-haulics groaning, but this doesn’t have to take long – a mere 10-15 seconds is all that’s required to stand up and stretch. It’s a simple strategy that goes a long way in protecting your health and warding off pain.