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First in Fitness
by Bryan Fass

4 steps to stay injury free

We should be lifting like professional athletes; being prepared is half the battle

By Bryan Fass

To quote one of my favorite commercials: “I pick things up and I put them down." 

While enormously funny, that saying is quite accurate for responders. You are a highly trained, medically educated, power lifter. You lift, push, pull, carry and transfer heavy objects in awkward and often dangerous positions, every day. So this more than qualifies you as an athlete or, in this case, a power lifter.

You would think that we would have some things in common with professional athletes. For example, a professional athlete would never begin their sport without a thorough warm up, stretching and soft tissue work. Unfortunately, we do not. Medics do not stretch pre-shift, which has been proven to reduce injury in other labor and awkward lifting jobs. 

EMS providers do not have to “qualify” to make the team by passing a physical ability test. Athletes do. 

Thankfully, this author was part of a ‘team’ that validated and wrote the first ever EMS pre-hire physical abilities test that is content valid, physically job specific and not age or gender biased. It may be that soon, you may have to “try out” to make the team, so to speak.

Professional lifters go through a well-practiced series of steps to get their body ready to lift and move. 

  • They position their feet to generate maximal power and to improve balance. 
  • They ‘set’ their hips to take load off the spine and maximize power generation. 
  • They follow a specific breathing pattern to allow the abdominal wall to “brace” the core and spine further reducing spinal torque and reducing soft tissue load.

On the other hand, EMS responders often go out of their way to cut corners and lift in the most inefficient and dangerous ways. Responders rarely follow a process to prepare to lift safely; instead they often just get it done as fast as possible. So the parallels between professional responders and pro-athletes are quite a contrast, to say the least.

So it begs to ask the question: What can be done to get medics, firefighters and even our brothers and sisters in law enforcement to take better pride in, and more responsibility for, their own health and wellness?

Some departments are turning to high deductible medical plans that allows employees to have some skin in the game and be responsible.

Others are implementing pre-hire physical abilities testing so they no longer hire potentially unfit and injurious employees. Instead these organizations field a more fit and agile workforce.

Still other departments are investing huge sums of money in powered tools, trucks and gear to address the problem.  This methodology will reduce injury but it is expensive and the equipment still needs to be used properly.  If responders cut corners and use poor mechanics, injuries will still occur!

The question you have to ask yourself is, what is your own personal health and wellness worth to you? Do you want to live with pain and disability? Is a disability really a good thing? 

Sadly EMS is a high risk job. You owe it to yourself, your partner and your team to go out of your way to stay injury free. 

Think about what happens when a team member is injured. Someone has to pull overtime, which costs more for the team. The risk of injury is much higher when working overtime.

So EMS power lifter, here's four steps you can take today:

1. Stretch pre-shift and while on duty.

2. Follow the five keys to safe patient & equipment handling.

  • Maintain a wide stance or split stance with your feet flat at all times
  • Maintain a ready stance, flexed slightly at the hips and NOT the back.
  • Tighten your abdominal wall; push your ab’s down and OUT.
  • Keep your head up on ALL movements ALL the time.
  • Arch your shoulders back; never lift with a round back.

3. Stay hydrated.

4. Exercise at least three days per week.

There are lots of resources to help you get started many of them right here on EMS1. There are on duty fitness videos. You can go to www.fitresponder.com for tons of videos on patient/equipment handling, fitness and tips. 

Ferno has a new FREE injury free video series with ergonomics, fitness and nutrition.  Visit other sites like www.firefighterfitnessonline.com for advanced routines.

The bottom line is that you, and only you are responsible for your well being. Pain and injury are no fun and, other than the NFL you are in a profession with a near 100 percent chance of injury if you keep doing what you are doing. Change can be scary, so is surgery, bit in this case change is absolutely necessary for your personal health.

About the author

Bryan Fass is a leading expert on public safety injury prevention. As the president and founder of Fit Responder, Bryan’s company works nationally with departments, corporations, and state and local governments to design and run targeted injury prevention and wellness programs. He is frequently contacted for expert opinion and content contribution for all aspects of public safety fitness, ergonomics and wellness. He authored the Fit Responder book used by departments and schools, and writes for numerous web and peer-reviewed journals including the NSCA-TSAC journal, officer.com, JEMS, ems-1.com & best practices in EMS.

Bryan holds a bachelors’ degree in sports medicine with more than 17 years of clinical practice, was a paramedic for more than 8 years, and is certified as an Athletic Trainer (ATC, LAT), Strength Coach (CSCS) and the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Fit Responder developed the nation’s first validated pre-hire Physical Abilities Test for EMS. Bryan is a sought-after speaker on a variety of topics including risk reduction, employee self-care, real world wellness and How to Eat on the street. Fit Responder also offers a mobile app and program for Fire-Rescue fitness. Contact Bryan at bryan.fass@ems1.com.
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