Oh the Pain! Avoiding Sprains and Strains

LarochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

What do the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, and New England Patriots star tight end, Rob Gronkowski, have in common?  They both suffered a hamstring strain injury this year which caused a temporary setback from competing in their respective sport.  While strain and sprain injuries are fairly common among athletes in any sport, overexertion injuries rank first as the leading cause of disabling injury in the workplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains, strains, or tears were the leading injury or illness in private industry and state and local government in 2014.  There were 420,870 of these cases requiring days away from work to recuperate and workers who suffered sprains, strains, or tears needed a median of 10 days away from work.

MEMIC is offering a free webinar on the topic of avoiding sprains and strains to policyholders on October 13th from 10:00 to 10:30am.  This half-hour webinar will describe the anatomical difference between a sprain and a strain, review the contributing factors leading to sprains and strains, discuss the general principles of safe lifting, and provide an overview of control measures for slip, trip, and fall prevention.  To register for this webinar or to request a schedule when new workshops and webinars are announced, click on this Workshops & Webinars link.

Check out some of our previous posts for tips on safe lifting, pushing vs. pulling, back pain and stretching.

A Healthy Bottom Line Means Healthy Employees

Allan Posted by Allan Brown

In today's business world we are faced with escalating healthcare costs. Employees are asked to contribute more to the cost of their healthcare policy and employers are providing wellness programs and incentives to change behavior and ultimately improve employee's health and reduce costs. Smart investments can work to bring these costs down, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This remains true in health and workers' compensation. MEMIC prides itself on partnering with employers to create safe workplaces so injuries don’t happen and helping employees recover from injury as quickly as possible. Changing workplace culture by emphasizing prevention helped bring workers’ comp costs in Maine down by more than 50% and lost-time injuries down by about 40% since MEMIC’s inception in 1993.[i]

Preventing injuries still remains a primary focus but has become more complicated as the percentage of obese and overweight workers has reached epidemic proportions. The adult obesity rate in the United States has more than doubled in 20 years, from less than 12% in 1991 to more than 27% in 2011.[ii] Studies have shown what common sense knows: the range of medical treatment and time to recover are all greater for obese employees, with medical costs being three times higher in the first year and five times higher at 60 months.[iii] This is one reason why MEMIC has begun helping employers meet this challenge and in the past 3 years we have focused on expanding  the traditional emphasis of workplace safety to include ergonomics and wellness.

You don’t have to be a big company to be serious about employee wellness. In many states, like Maine, employers with 20 or fewer employees are allowed an annual tax credit for comprehensive workplace wellness programs.[iv] Putting a focus on employee wellness does not need to be expensive or time consuming. You may have heard people say “Sitting is the new smoking.” Something as simple as doing regular stand and stretch breaks can be a great place to start. See my other post about the little things that can cause back pain:


Here is a list of workplace wellness program resources:

WellSteps has free webinars, presentations and tools as does the National Wellness Institute.

(Note: national groups like National Wellness Institute and WellSteps may have local partners with dual membership like Lifeline Center for Workplace Wellness or Wellness Council of Maine.)

WELCOA (The Wellness Council of America) has free resources like case studies, presentations, surveys and samples.

The American Heart Associations’ Fit-Friendly Worksites Program has a free worksite wellness toolkit and employee resources, such as an online activity tracker, walking and exercise programs, and healthy eating resources.

National Business Group for Health offers resources and represents large employers' perspective on national health policy issues.

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health works with businesses to ensure that employees and their families living with mental illness, including substance use disorders, receive effective care.

National Health Awards offers descriptions of award winning employee health promotion programs.

Scoping paper by the Australian Government: “Overweight and obesity: implications for workplace health and safety and workers’ compensation

CDC (Centers for Disease Control) offers a variety of resources including Healthier Worksite Initiative, National Healthy Worksite Program and Workplace Health Promotion.


Mousing elbow? It can be prevented

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

“Hey doc, what do you mean I have tennis elbow?  I don’t even play the game!”

 Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis, as clinically described, refers to a condition that results in soreness to the outside of the elbow and forearm, typically to the dominant arm.  Tennis elbow is classified as an overuse injury though the cause can stem from a sudden blow to the elbow or forceful pull of the forearm.  Commonly, micro-tears occur to the extensor forearm muscle tendon near the elbow resulting in pain and discomfort.   Pain is most pronounced when grasping objects with the palm down (pronation), shaking someone’s hand, or turning a door knob.

With a move by many employers to go “paperless”, particularly in healthcare with the implementation of an electronic medical records system, computer mouse use has increased dramatically.  Navigating through software applications with multiple windows, tabs, and dropdown menus has become extremely mouse-click intensive, setting the stage for a repetitive stress injury such as tennis elbow.  

The risk of developing this condition can be caused by the placement of the mouse on a work surface that requires an awkward extended reach.  Additionally, the size and shape of the mouse can be contributing factors depending on the size of the person’s hand as well as overall conditioning of the forearm muscles. 

The good news on tennis elbow is that it’s not permanent if given prompt intervention and opportunity for adequate recovery time.  Here are some tips on avoiding tennis elbow related to computer mouse use.

  1. Position the mouse close to the side of the keyboard with minimal reach.
  2. Increase the mouse pointer motion speed to reduce force exertion.  The mouse properties are accessed through the computer control panel with the pointer options tab and motion (select a pointer speed) the means of adjustment. 
  3. Take a micro-stretch break every half hour.
  4. Alternate mouse location from the favored side of the keyboard to the opposite side (though this takes some adaptation). 
  5. Learn control key shortcuts for the software application.
  6. If tennis elbow has already resulted (from mouse use), replace the conventional mouse with an “in-line” design.  

For more information on controlling ergonomic risk factor exposure, consult the MEMIC Safety Director and lightly click on the Solve your Ergonomic Dilemmas! link.

Is Sitting Good for Your Health?

Allan Brown Posted by Allan Brown

Inactivity (like sitting) has a profound effect on our bodies.  Sitting increases disc pressure by as much as 50% and reduces cardiac output.  It also affects our bodies at the cellular level, changing the production of certain proteins that contribute to our overall wellness. 

Believe it or not, the simple act of getting up and moving around plays a huge role in our overall wellness.  Research done by Marc T. Hamilton, Deborah Hamilton, and Theodore Zderic at the University of Missouri-Columbia, show our bodies are changing because of a decrease in movement throughout the day.  This non-exercise activity (moving around an office) is being greatly reduced in our daily routines because of technology and jobs that involve sitting for an extended period of time.  Our risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular disease appears to be on the rise because of our sedentary work habits. 

For example, the researchers compared energy expenditure and found brisk walking 5 days/week or running 35 miles/week produced less energy expenditure and fewer muscle contractions than high non-exercise activity, like standing and walking throughout the day.  Structured exercise does contribute to our overall wellness however non exercise activities like walking, standing and moving during daily activities collectively, contribute more to our overall wellness.  The energy expenditure :

  • "Standing workers”: 1400 kcal/day
  • Shop assistants or homemakers:  2300kcal/day
  • Seated workers with limited movement : 700kcal/day. 

So, what can you do?  Get out of that chair and take stretch break.  Take a walk. Move the printer further from your desk. Consider standing for a portion of the workday.  Walk or bike to work.  Leave your office for lunch and take a walk after you eat.  Do not sit down when you go home.  Take a walk, stay upright against gravity, and increase your non-exercise activity. 

According to public health studies, we are awake on average of 16 hours per day.  How much of that day do spend sitting?  Decrease your hours in the chair and stay vertical.  It is okay to sit and lay down, but save it for after a good day of being upright!


Micro Breaks = Macro Benefit

Bill OConnor Posted by Bill O’Connor

Ergonomics is the science of the interaction between people and their work. The ergonomic concerns in the workplace are not limited to computer workstations, assembly operations, or lifting tasks.  Risk factors like excessive force, repetitive tasks, and awkward posture can surely stress the human body to the point where injury occurs. A combination of ergonomic risk factors is the real concern, however.

One of the primary reasons that workers sustain injury involves overload of work without enough recovery time. Whether a worker is performing extremely repetitive tasks, such as assembly or typing, or is exposed to prolonged static tasks, such as sitting or working overhead, the human body will fatigue after period of time.

When fatigue sets in, muscles become stiff and cramped, flexibility decreases significantly, and blood flow to the affected body area is reduced.  The end result is a significant increase of risk of physical injury.

How can you counteract these forces: Do your bodys a favor—take a micro break: 30 – 40 seconds of light movement and stretching (especially for affected body parts) will help keep the muscles limber, squeeze out metabolic waste products from muscles and bring in fresh, nutrient-rich blood to maintain joints with a good range of motion. If you haven’t already, you should consider speaking to the benefits of micro breaks in your Employee Handbook. They may be micro but they do big things!


Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel! On second thought…

LaRochelle Greg 2 Posted by Greg LaRochelle

The expression  "Put your shoulder to the wheel." is an idiom for working hard at something.  Certainly, we don't want to actually place a shoulder against a wheel, especially if it's of the rotating and grinding variety.  Ouch! 

But the message here is more about protecting your shoulder from cumulative trauma than from abrasion.  A little anatomy is in order to fully appreciate the shoulder as a remarkable structure along with its vulnerability.

The shoulder is one of the most sophisticated and complex joints of the body.  It allows us 360-degree range of motion, like the sweep of hands on a clock's face.  Some of us will remember The Who's Pete Townsend wind-milling on the guitar.

It's through the ball and socket attachment of the upper arm bone (humerus) into the shallow "cup" of the scapula that such mobility is afforded. The head of the humerus is reinforced in the socket with ligaments.  Additionally, some 30 muscles provide movement, support, and stability to the shoulder complex. The tapering extension (tendons) of four muscles that raise and lower the arm form the rotator cuff and attach to the humerus.  There is also a fluid-filled sac (bursa) that cushions these tendons from the bony structure (acromion) above. Raising the arm above shoulder level compresses the tendons against the bursa in this subacromial compartment.

Though the structure of the shoulder is unique, its weakness lies in its complexity, coupled with the forces that are applied during arm movement.  Activities performed with the arms outstretched, overhead, and with an object in hand place a significant amount of stress on the shoulder joint. 

Two common shoulder injuries are impingement and rotator cuff tear. Impingement results from the rubbing of the rotator cuff tendons against the bursa and acromion causing pain and inflammation.  Tears to the tendons can result from sudden impact or from chronic wear.  Over time, fraying and tearing of the tendons can result with arm movement impaired due to the pain and inflammation.  Surgery is typical for sudden impact injury resulting in a massive tear and may be warranted for cumulative conditions as well.

To reduce the potential for a cumulative shoulder injury, lift objects close to the body, use stepladders or footstools to avoid overhead work, stretch periodically, and maintain proper conditioning.  If you've already experienced a shoulder injury, these steps will help to ensure that you, in the word of Mr. Townsend, "won't get fooled again!".

Stretching for Fun and Profit

I have a pretty good idea that a number of you will read this post’s title and say “that's crazy.” I honestly have to say I thought the same thing when I was first introduced to the idea of an employee stretch program years ago. I had a safety position with a large construction company and during that era we were all 10 feet tall and bulletproof. Stretching was not for construction workers—it was for office and factory workers.

But this stretching order came from high up, and we went kicking and dragging our feet. Then a funny thing happened. Slowly, the guys and gals started participating. We obviously had some folks who were so resistant to change that they did it halfheartedly, but within a month or two, they were in the minority.

Why did people begin to take it seriously?  In my estimation, there were a number of positives that outweighed the negatives:

  • They began to feel better. Limbering up and getting blood flowing into their muscles wasn't painful, especially for those who drove two hours to be there for 7 a.m.
  • Communications improved. The superintendent and foreman who led the stretches realized they had a captive audience and took advantage of it. Simple announcements like what time the concrete would arrive or when the power would go out were disseminated to everybody during stretch break and not just a few.
  • Group cohesion took hold. Nobody wanted to walk into the group when half the routine was done or not show up at all. Those who did could expect comments or advice on where to purchase a decent watch.
  • Injuries decreased. After 18 months, muscle strains and sprains were reduced by approximately 40%. That's a considerable savings considering the total employee population was about 1,200 at the time.

That company continues to benefit from stretch breaks to this day. In fact, many of the competitors and subcontractors who chuckled in those early years do the same stretches today simply because they can't afford not to. I have witnessed many MEMIC policyholders going through the same trials and tribulations. And they too have benefited from this basic loss control effort. 

Jumpstart or liven up your stretch break at work. Download MEMIC’s stretch poster and hang it right where employees gather to stretch:

Stretching for your health

If you care to read about a national manufacturing facility that also found success in a stretch program, than go to:

Employee stretching program pays off for P&H

Stretch safety net