11 Exercises for Preventing Work Injuries
I have been working directly with the industrial workers population for about 1 year now with a global food supplier in our local area. The employees are typically performing repetitive and physical activities throughout their workday. These movements include repetitive shoulder, arm, and hand movements as well as lifting/carrying up to 50 lbs of product. This predisposes these employees to a variety of over-use and strain or sprain injuries of their upper and lower bodies.
My role as a physical therapist at the facility is both preventative and rehabilitative. Treatment interventions typically include education on proper body mechanics, ergonomics with lifting/carrying products, soft tissue management, and creating a tailored stretching regimen for each individual employee to help address their own aches and pains. I am able to make recommendations that help make the work environment safer to help prevent injuries. Some of these suggestions include implementing a quick stretching program before initiating work tasks, the addition of anti-fatigue mats for prolonged standing, and teaching employees proper squatting and lifting mechanics to reduce the risk of injury.
It is a great employee benefit to have this program offered on-site at the facility. There is less delay in access to care for these employees. Oftentimes injuries can be addressed in the acute phase vs. becoming a chronic, lingering condition where the likelihood of time lost at work is greater.
Here are a few easy stretches and exercises I have found helpful for the preventative management of the industrial employee.
Upper Body Stretches
1. Upper trap stretch with overpressure
Sit up nice and straight, and tilt your right ear to your right shoulder. Do not turn or deviate your head. Hold & repeat on the opposite side.
2. Levator scap stretch
Reach 1 hand behind your head & down your back, turn your head to the opposite side looking downward toward your armpit. You can increase the stretch by applying overpressure on the top of your head with your opposite hand. You should feel a stretch on the side of your neck. Hold & repeat on the opposite side.
3. Scap squeeze with alternating protraction
Raise your arms to shoulder height in front of you. Keeping your elbows straight, push your arms forward as far as you can. Imagine you are trying to have your shoulder touch each other in front of you. Repeat.
4. Pecs doorway stretch
Stand in an open doorway. Raise each arm up to the side, bent at 90° angles with palms forward. Slowly step forward with one foot. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. Hold. Step back & relax. Repeat with the opposite foot in front.
5. Wrist extension stretch:
Extend one arm in front of you and point your fingers toward the floor. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm. Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on each arm.
6. Wrist flexion stretch:
Extend your arm in front of you with your palm up. Bend your wrist, pointing your hand toward the floor. With your other hand, gently bend your wrist farther until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm. Hold the stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on each arm.
Lower Body Stretches:
1. Hamstring stretch w/ stepStart in a stride stance with your front foot on a step. Straighten your front leg, point your front foot upward so your heel is on the step, and lean slightly forward to feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold and repeat on the opposite leg.
2. Lunge hip flexor stretch
Start in a stride stance about hip-width apart. Point toes forward. Stand tall, and tighten your glutes & abdominals. Make sure you are not arching through your low back. Keep your back leg straight & slowly lunge forward until you feel a stretch in the front of the hip of the leg behind you. You should not feel any low back pain. Hold & repeat with the opposite leg.
3. Alternating trunk rotations
Engage your abdominal/core muscles throughout the exercise to stabilize and protect your spine. Raise your arms to shoulder height at your sides & slowly rotate your trunk while reaching with your arm across your body to your opposite leg. Hold this end position briefly before standing back up to starting position and rotating in the opposite direction.
4. Standing calf stretch w/ wall
Stand a little less than arm's distance away from the wall. Step your left leg forward and your right leg back, keeping your feet parallel. Bend your left knee and press through your right heel as you lean into the wall. Hold & repeat on the opposite side.
5. Piriformis stretch in seated
Sit at the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your right ankle on your left thigh close to the knee. Sit up tall and straight. Place your hands on your right knee. You can gently add pressure from your right hand to your right thigh, pressing towards the floor for a greater stretch. If you feel a strong stretch, stay in this position. Hold & repeat on the opposite side.