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Can Stretching Prevent Injuries?
You may have wondered if adding a stretching program to your injury prevention efforts would be worth the time and effort. EMC Injury Management Consultant Linda Van Woert is here to tell you, “It depends.”
Not the definitive answer you were hoping for, but Linda says some companies implementing a program have great success, while others fall flat. Let’s explore what a stretching program can do and why it may (or may not) work for your employees.
What Is a Stretching Program?
As part of an overall injury reduction program, some businesses have greatly reduced their workplace musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) by including warm-up stretching before shifts start. This activity is a component of a comprehensive injury prevention program that also includes ergonomics, employee training on tasks and job safety, and early intervention when injuries do occur. Stretching reduces fatigue, increases balance and posture, improves coordination, and may also help in injury recovery. Stretching and flexing programs are appropriate for employees in any work setting, whether in an office, a shop or manufacturing environment, or at a construction site.
Points to Consider
As with any new program you might consider implementing, researching and planning are key.
While there are some critics of workplace stretching programs, Linda urges you to look at these benefits:
- A well-managed exercise program can help keep employees in better physical condition, possibly resulting in less muscle and tissue damage from injuries and repetitive motions
- A pre-shift session of just 5 to 10 minutes will warm up workers for their tasks
- Exercising together can create bonding and improve morale, in part because the process shows management’s concern for workers and their health
- Stretching programs can help identify and offer early intervention of MSDs
- With our aging workforce, keeping bodies in good shape becomes even more important in preventing injuries
Attitude and Expertise Count
“The attitude of the organization’s culture and how the program is implemented determines whether an exercise program is effective, because it’s all in the mindset of the managers and employees,” Linda says. In particular:
- Success with stretching can reflect the attitudes of both management and front-line supervisors. If supervisors don’t buy in to the program, employees are less likely to fully participate. If management doesn’t seem to care, why should employees?
- The exercise leader is also important to worker acceptance. If the person leading the activities is enthusiastic, the program will have more impact and better participation from employees. Employees will enjoy, and perhaps even look forward to, this active start to their workday.
Implement With Care
It takes a skillful program planner to develop the right exercises for your employees. Because the stretching exercises need to match the jobs, it’s important for the program designer to have basic knowledge of the actions most likely to help prevent injuries.
Consult with an accredited expert to assist in planning your approach and determining how to make the exercises work for various tasks. A specialist can help with task analysis, developing a program, individualizing it if needed and adapting when tasks change.
These resources provide more information on stretching in the workplace: