Workplace Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains are among the most common workplace injuries. They are painful and debilitating for employees and costly for employers. What are these ailments all about and are you doing enough to prevent them?
- A sprain is an injury involving the stretching or tearing of a ligament (a tissue that connects bone to bone) or a joint capsule, which helps provide joint stability. Symptoms can include pain, inflammation, and, sometimes, the inability to move an affected limb. Sprains occur when a joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion, such as when one turns too quickly or rolls the ankle.
- A strain is an injury that involves the stretching or tearing of a Musculo-tendinous (muscle and tendon) structure. An acute strain of a Musculo-tendinous structure occurs at the junction where the muscle becomes a tendon. This happens when a muscle is stretched and suddenly contracts, as with running or jumping. Symptoms of an acute muscle strain can include pain, muscle spasm, loss of strength, and limited range of motion. Chronic strains are injuries that gradually build up from overuse or repetitive stress, resulting in tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon).
Medical doctors categorize sprains and strains according to their severity.
- A Grade I (mild) sprain or strain involves some stretching or minor tearing of a ligament or muscle. Grade I injuries usually heal quickly with the familiar RICE formula: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Therapeutic exercise can help restore strength and flexibility.
- Grade II injury is a ligament or muscle that is partially torn but still intact. Grade II sprains and strains are treated similarly but may require the affected area to be immobilized to speed healing.
- A Grade III sprain or strain is one in which the ligament or muscle is completely torn, causing joint instability. Grade III injuries usually require immobilization and may need surgery to restore function.
The following tips can help prevent the discomfort and expense associated with these common injuries. Remind employees by discussing these preventive strategies at safety meetings or toolbox talks, or by posting them on your safety bulletin board.
- Size up the job before starting the task. What is the best, safest way to proceed?
- Be alert to any possible way to reduce or eliminate lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, and carrying heavy objects.
- Warm up the muscles before beginning a strenuous job, just like athletes do.
- Watch out for slip or trip hazards in the work area.
- When possible, push, rather than pull.
- Ask for help when a load is heavy, awkward, or unstable.
- Be sure that you are on a stable surface before attempting any lift.
- Keep the load close and bend with the knees, not the back.
- Use a step stool or ladder, on a stable surface, whenever necessary.
- Avoid twisting while handling a load.
- Stay in good physical shape through regular exercise and stretching.
Lift objects within the “power zone”. This is the area between mid-thigh and mid-chest height. Avoid lifting objects outside this zone. Use your best judgment when lifting heavy objects. Do not attempt to lift an object that exceeds your strength, and use extreme caution when lifting objects exceeding 50 lbs.
Always carry objects close to your body.
Always lift slowly and smoothly.
Avoid twisting. Always turn the whole body as one unit when changing direction while carrying a heavy object.
Move heavy objects by pushing or pulling, whenever possible. Pushing is always preferable.
Always stand close to the object that you are lifting and be certain that fingers and toes are clear when setting it down.
Always lift with your legs and not your back.
Strain & Sprain Prevention
Strains and sprains related to lifting and material handling are some of the most frequent types of injuries, both on and off the job. While some factors that contribute to the potential for injury cannot be controlled, others can be reduced or minimized. Poor physical fitness, obesity, smoking, poor posture, and medical/physical deficiencies are personal factors that may contribute to strains and sprains. Workplace factors may include inadequate workplace design, improper or defective material handling equipment, improper manual or mechanical handling methods, and inadequate training.
The best way to prevent sprains and strains is to keep in good physical shape so that your muscles, ligaments, and tendons are strong and flexible enough to resist trauma. To prevent recurring injuries, ask your doctor for exercises designed to rehabilitate the muscles in the injured area.