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The keys to safety on the job after a back injury

It can be hard to come back to work after an injury, but taking the time to position your body correctly can prevent injury reoccurrence

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While the saying, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable,” may be popular, musculoskeletal injuries are a fact of life for EMS providers, especially back injuries. Recovery can be a slow process – even strains or soft-tissue injuries can take 3 to 6 weeks to resolve. Prevention is key, but, in the event you do sustain a back injury, what is the best way to ease your way back into the field? When returning to the field after a back injury, proper posture, technique, and use of lifting tools and equipment is more important than ever to prevent re-injury.

Movement matters for injury prevention

The first step is to understand that before you can move patients, you must be able to move well yourself. The key to preventing a future injury is to make sure that your ankles, hips and thoracic spine have both mobility and stability.

The first step is to understand that before you can move patients, you must be able to move well yourself. (Photo/Pixabay)
The first step is to understand that before you can move patients, you must be able to move well yourself. (Photo/Pixabay)

Without the ability to squat or lunge, your knees and back are set up to fail. The stronger your glutes are, the less load on your back. Your thoracic region must be both mobile (to encourage extension) and strong (to allow you lifting power). Stretch daily, gain strength and work to stay mobile every shift. Master the four steps to injury prevention to avoid re-injury:

1. Limit lift height

Never lift from floor height. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends changing the lift height to reduce the load. Use tools that allow you to lift from a higher angle or a powered stretcher. If your hands are on the floor for a lift, you’ve already lost.

2. Minimize trunk angle

The further you lean over, the more load (shearing force) is placed on your back. Bed-to-bed transfers are a prime example. Use a lifting device or reduce your trunk angle to reduce strain during bed-to-bed, dialysis chair and even toilet or bathtub transfers.

EMS life hack: Keep your sternum and head up at all times when lifting and transferring.

3. Reduce friction

Friction is your enemy. Use a transfer device to reduce both friction and awkward trunk angle during lateral transfers and slides, and both you and the patient win. Plus, the handles allow you to properly grip – palm up – while leaning over the bed less.

4. Stay fit for duty

EMS is a 100 percent physical job. While you can reduce the load by adopting the above principles, another key element to reduce a reoccurrence of injury is to be strong. As an athletic trainer and strength coach, I know that the stronger you are, the less likely you are to get hurt. Embrace the “primal lifts” to get fit for duty: squats, dead lift, lunges, row and sprint. These exercises alone will improve resiliency, fitness, strength and power. Plus, they help to reset and balance the body from what the job does to your posture, both biomechanically and hormonally.

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