Ergonomics done right.®
October 20th, 2009

Some thoughts on stretching to reduce work injuries

Contributed by Christy Lotz, CPE

The current ASSE online e-magazine The Monitor (
includes an article titled Is Your
Stretch and Flex Program Cutting-Edge?  
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.