When pain becomes a strain

April 19, 2018

Aches and pains affect most of us at some point in our lives. But during our working years it could indicate something more complicated like work-related discomfort, pain and injury (DPI). In this blog, Fit For Work Physiotherapist and Physiotherapy Professional Advisor Sarah Trail explains the importance of diagnosing strain injuries and work-related DPI.

Strain injuries can have a huge impact on all areas of our lives - home life, work life and our mental health.

When you’re in pain, you generally become less active, putting you at risk of other injuries too.

There are two main types of strain injuries; traumatic ones caused by a sudden force, or repetitive type injuries that used to be known as repetitive strain injuries. Typically, symptoms involve pain, stiffness or pins and needles. Early diagnosis and assessment are key for ensuring the best chances of recovery.

A New Zealand qualified physiotherapist or occupational health physician should be contacted as soon as possible to find out what is wrong and develop an individualised treatment plan.

There are several factors that physiotherapists consider when assessing these types of injuries. They include:

  • work organisation such as number of hours worked, breaks taken, and variation in tasks;
  • the amount of load and forceful movements required;
  • work postures such as being seated for a long time or bent over a workstation all day
  • changeable factors such as the amount of sleep the patient normally gets, nutrition and general fitness;
  • unchangeable factors including height and body shape (and their relationship to the workstation, age, and any pre-existing illnesses;
  • environmental factors such as lighting, heat and noise (hearing loss and eye strain can also be considered work-related DPI);
  • psychosocial factors including aspects of life outside of work such as finances and relationships, and aspects within work like relationships with workmates and managers

The healing process for an overuse injury is quite different from an acute sprain or strain, but patients may experience ongoing or increasing pain from both. They may also have limited function in the affected body part or strain on other body parts, compensating for the inability to use the injured area. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis so that patients can get on the right track quickly

Some occupations and professions have a higher rate of injuries than others due to the nature of the work. For example, neck and wrist pain is more common among office workers, while lower back injuries are more likely to occur for manual labourers.

Fit For Work can visit worksites to identify risk factors and help businesses to manage them as best as possible. Our specialists’ three main areas of advice are how to recover from an injury; the ongoing management of the injury; and identifying the causes and what someone can do to modify them.

An important thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t change the cause of the issue you’re not likely to fully recover. For example, if someone doesn’t have an ergonomically correct workstation (set up for their anatomy), this might play a big part in them developing a repetitive strain injury. Some things to look at include:

  • Overreaching for items regularly used
  • Making sure eyes are level with the top of the computer screen and at least an arm’s length away
  • Checking variability in work tasks you carry out, and whether forceful movements are used. Repetition is a big risk for work related overuse syndrome.

The longer you leave a strain or work-related overuse injury the more likely it will lead to ongoing or other problems.

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