The Power of Physiotherapy in the Workplace
Some of the most commonly reported work-related illnesses are as a result of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Coupled with the facts that we have extended the pension age, and the UK population is living longer, it’s looking likely musculoskeletal disorders will continue to be at the heart of the sickness absence challenge.
At a time of austerity, government cuts and the uncertainty of Brexit it could be seen as the least appropriate time for companies to invest in the health of their workers. With a lack of clarity about the future economic climate, employers may be looking to make cutbacks. It’s not unlikely that well-being policies, and absence prevention strategies, will suffer.
Here, freelance writer and fitness fanatic Lloyd Wells discusses the power of physio in the workplace as part of a project for osteopathic office chair specialist Corrigo Design.
It’s not all doom and gloom; a counter argument exists. There’s been a seismic shift over the past decade in employers understanding the benefits of occupational health to both the company and the employee. Health and wellbeing are already high on the corporate agenda. In uncertain times, companies need their skilled and experienced staff to be at work more now than ever before.
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, sickness absence currently costs the UK £14.3 billion per year. They also report that 40% of all UK sickness absence is due to work-related MSDs. Along with the Society’s claim that “physiotherapy is clinically and cost effective at keeping people at work or helping workers return quickly after sickness absence” physiotherapy is an attractive investment for employers.
What are the most common work-related MSDs?
Musculoskeletal disorders can affect muscles, joints and tendons in all parts of the body. Most MSDs develop over time. There are many injuries and disorders related to the movement (or lack of) of the body. Some of the commonest forms of MSDs seen in the workplace are:
- Muscle/tendon strain
- Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
- Ligament sprain
- Tension Neck Syndrome (neck pain and stiffness with tenderness of the Trapezius muscle)
- Thoracic Outlet Compression (compression of nerves, arteries or veins between the lower neck to the armpit)
- Rotator Cuff Tendonitis (most common cause of shoulder pain caused by injury or inflammation to the tendons of the shoulder’s rotator cuff)
- Epicondylitis (tennis elbow)
- Radial Tunnel Syndrome (elbow and forearm pain caused by pressure on the radial nerve)
- Digital Neuritis (common complaint in feet from excessive walking or driving, causing pain or numbness due to enlarged nerves)
- Trigger Finger/Thumb (a finger or thumb gets locked into place and can be painful)
- DeQuervain’s Syndrome (a painful inflammation of the tendons in the thumb that extends to the wrist)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (compression of the median nerve causes tingling, numbness and sometimes pain in the wrist and hand)
- Mechanical Back Syndrome (any form of back pain caused by placing abnormal stress and strain on the muscles of the vertebral column)
- Degenerative Disc Disease (damage or wear and tear to the discs in the back causing tingling, numbness, pain and sometimes difficulty walking)
What are the risk factors?
There are 4 main risk factors for developing a work-related MSD.
- Fixed or constrained body positions
- Continual repetition of movements
- Force concentrated on small parts of the body, such as the hand or wrist
- High task repetition with insufficient recovery time between movements
How does physio help?
Physiotherapists are experts in the treatment and prevention of a range of physical problems associated with different systems of the body. Physiotherapists not only help to solve problems, they also work to prevent problems arising in the first place.
The primary aim of a physiotherapist is to alleviate pain and restore function, or in the case of permanent injury, to lessen the effects of that injury.
A physiotherapist will tailor treatment according to the individual and the specific complaint. They use manual therapies such as stretching, mobilisation and resistance training. They will usually recommend exercise programmes, such as muscle strengthening or posture re-training for recovery and to prevent a return of symptoms. Physiotherapists may also use TENS machines, laser therapy and ultrasound to aid healing and reduce inflammation and pain.
As well as treating the individual, physiotherapists can also recommend changes to the work environment in order to prevent a repeat of the strain or injury. Businesses can benefit enormously from physiotherapy services. That includes delivering cost effective treatment, helping employees back to work, and in the maintenance of a productive, healthy workforce.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists concluded in their paper Physiotherapy Works: musculoskeletal disorders that “speedy access to physiotherapy for people with MSDs is clinically and cost effective for the health service, for employers and society.
Isn’t it high time business makes the leap to invest in workplace physiotherapy?