Is It Time For Physiotherapy In The Workplace?

There’s been a seismic shift over the past decade in employers understanding the benefits of occupational health for both the company and the employee. Health and wellbeing are already high on the corporate agenda. In these uncertain times, companies need their skilled and experienced staff to be at work more now than ever before.

The Integrated Benefits Institute says poor health costs the U.S. economy a whooping $576 billion a year. Of that amount, 39 percent, or $227 billion is from “lost productivity” from employee absenteeism due to illness or what researchers called “presentism” (when employees report to work but illness keeps them from performing at their best).  Here’s a link to their report and statement.

Some of the most frequently reported work-related illnesses result from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). In 2005, 107.7 million U.S. adults reported that they experienced a musculoskeletal disorder for three months or longer (i.e., the condition was chronic) at some point in the preceding year.

Along with the Society’s claim: “physiotherapy is clinically and cost-effectively keeping people at work or helping workers return promptly after sickness absence,” physiotherapy becomes 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 of 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.

  1. Fixed or constrained body positions
  2. Continual repetition of movements
  3. Force concentrated on small parts of the body, such as the hand or wrist
  4. High task repetition with insufficient recovery time between movements

How does physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are experts in the treatment and prevention of a range of physical problems associated with different systems of the body. Physiotherapists help not only to solve problems; they also work to prevent future problems arising.

The primary aim of a physiotherapist is to ease pain and restore function, or with 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, mobilization and resistance training. They will generally recommend exercise programs 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 to prevent a repeat of the strain or injury–such as ergonomic and orthopedic chairs. Businesses can benefit enormously from physiotherapy services to deliver cost effective treatment, helping employees get back to work and maintain 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 time your business makes the leap to invest in workplace physiotherapy?