Contributed by Christy Lotz, CPE
The current ASSE online e-magazine The Monitor (http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/357229e6) includes an article titled Is Your Stretch and Flex Program Cutting-Edge? In it, Deborah Reed (MOTR/L) quotes several studies with respect to the effectiveness of stretching at work on reducing injuries.
The article alludes to those injuries caused by poor ergonomic conditions. After an extensive literature review, the author states that there is not a lot of evidence to support static stretching as a means of reducing injuries.This is true for both an athlete and the industrial worker.Stretching programs have recently become popular as a means to prevent injury in industry.Sometimes these static stretches are performed in a group at the beginning of a shift or individually at the workstation throughout the shift.
The author does state, and I am in agreement, that there is a clear difference between static and dynamic stretches. Dynamic or ballistic stretching is more like a “warm-up” for the muscles as opposed to static stretching. This is beneficial for both athletes and industrial workers.The goal is to get the blood flowing to the muscles that will be taxed during the activity or work. Blood flow is beneficial for a number of reasons including the transport of oxygen and nutrients to muscles
and removal of waste.This has a positive impact in terms of preventing injuries of muscle tissue.
Therefore, if you are going to provide any stretching program, it should be approached more like a “warm-up” session as opposed to just a static stretching program. In addition, stretching throughout the day is much better than one session at the beginning of the shift, but that is not usually the approach in industry to these types of programs.
It is my experience that a well-designed workstation (i.e., based on good ergonomic principles) has an even bigger impact on injury reduction than a stretching program. If a workstation is designed to keep the operator working in a neutral posture and reduce stressors that contribute to injury, the operator will feel a positive impact for an entire 8-hour shift. Whereas a stretching program is often performed for the first 10-15 minutes of the shift and the effects are supposed to last for the remainder of the day.
Of the research cited in this article, none of the studies mentioned the benefits of short stretching periods for long durations of work.The author compared the sports athlete to the industrial worker throughout the article, but an athlete often exercises for 2 hours per day, so stretching may show benefits, whereas an industrial worker works 8-hours per day so the benefits of stretching must last much longer and this impact is not shown in the cited articles.
Overall, I agree that ballistic stretching and warm ups throughout the shift is beneficial, but proper workstation setup (i.e., reducing the risk factors of MSD injuries), minimizes the need for employees to warm up in the first place. Considering ergonomics early in the process will benefit the operator and show a more significant impact in terms of decreased cost and increased productivity.