Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers surprising insight into just how many people are hurt on the job. In 2021, more than 2.6 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported across the nation. These injuries and illnesses cause physical symptoms, mental distress, and in many cases, the added financial burden for those who are unable to work while hurt. Fortunately, many workplace injuries are preventable. Here are our top four tips to prevent common workplace injuries to keep you happy and healthy on the job.
Every seven seconds, a worker is hurt on the job in this country. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the top work-related accidents are overexertion, contact with objects and equipment, and slips, trips, and falls. The most common injuries reported in these accidents are:
The terms sprain and strain are often used interchangeably, but they involve different structures within the body.
A sprain is an overstretching or tearing of the bands of fibrous tissue (ligaments) that connect bone to bone at the joints. Sprains typically happen when a person twists, falls, or is hit with enough force to shift the body out of proper position.
A strain is similar type of injury that involves overstretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons that connect muscle to bone. Strains can occur from direct contact to the body, using a muscle the wrong way, or muscle overuse through repeating the same motions over long periods of time.
Workers at risk of sprains, strains, and tears include:
Pushing, lifting, and overreaching without proper posture can lead to sprains and strains. Jobs that require long periods of sitting, standing, and bending in awkward positions can stress the muscles, ligaments, and tendons causing damage to these structures over time. The arms, shoulders, and back are commonly affected.
Whether you are sitting, standing, bending, or lifting, prolonged positions can lead to reduced blood flow (called ischemia) to the muscles creating a sensation of muscle fatigue, soreness, or pain.
The body has 2 main types of muscle fibers to help control movement. “fast twitch” or Type II fibers activate during movement and activity. “Slow twitch” or Type I muscle fibers burn energy more slowly and don’t fatigue quite as easily. That is why they help with stability and posture.
During prolonged positions, the slow twitch fibers can fatigue after being on for a sustained amount of time. When the muscle is constantly “on,” it can’t receive good blood flow and this can contribute to pain or soreness.
Office workers are particularly prone to sore neck, back, and shoulder muscles if their work environment does not contribute to healthy sitting posture. Professional drivers often experience upper body muscle aches.
Research also confirms that teachers, healthcare professionals, food service workers, and other types of employees who stand for extended periods have a higher risk of musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the lower back. They also have higher reports of plantar fasciitis among other ankle and foot disorders.
Keep in mind that sprains, strains, and pain are not just linked to bad posture or overuse injuries. Workers can get hurt from a single event, like a fall or being struck by an object. These types of injuries can be avoided with workplace safety training, protocols, and enforcement that helps to create a safe space for every employee.
Cuts and punctures are the NSC’s third most common category of workplace injuries. Workers who use tools and equipment with sharp edges are at risk of minor and severe wounds that pose a risk to the body’s internal organs and musculoskeletal structures.
These injuries can potentially introduce infection that, left untreated, can become life-threatening. Serious lacerations and puncture wounds may require surgical repair followed by extensive physical therapy to rebuild strength, mobility, and function.
You cannot prevent every work accident. But there is a lot you can do to protect your body from the stresses and strains that come with your job. Here are our top tips to avoid common workplace injuries.
Much like an athlete stretches before activity to warm up the muscles and gently introduce new movements, stretching is just as beneficial for workers who sit, stand, and lift.
Holding the same position or repeating the same motions for hours at a time is likely to cause muscle pain, strain, and soreness. Reduce these symptoms with frequent stretching or movement into other positions to release tension and improve flexibility. Frequent movement can help prevent “tech neck”, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neck, shoulder, jaw, and headache pain.
Specific workplace stretches target those areas that tend to get tight, stiff, and sore: particularly the upper back, hips, wrists, and shoulders. We recommend stretching at least 5-10 minutes before and after work activities.
Ergonomics is important because when you’re doing a job and your body is stressed by an awkward posture or repeated movement your musculoskeletal system is affected. By setting yourself up for success with your required tasks, you can have an improved work experience.
Good ergonomics contribute to:
It goes without saying that because most adults spend a good part of their lives at their place of employment, good work posture should be a priority.
If you sit at work, keep your computer monitor at eye level. Sit up straight with your back against your chair. Use a lumbar support or rolled up towel to prevent slouching. Rest your hands at a 90-degree angle on your work surface. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
When standing, stand up straight and tall with your shoulders back and in a comfortable position. Look straight ahead and allow your arms to hang down naturally at your sides. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with most of your weight on the balls of your feet.
If bending and/or lifting are a part of your work, focus on keeping your feet apart to create a wider base of support. Stand close to the object you are lifting and always bend at the knees instead of your waist or back.
Avoid bending over when carrying an object. Hold it close to the body and bend at the knees to set it down. Turn your whole body when lifting and bending. Twisting increases the risk of sprains and strains. Physical therapists work with you to improve your posture. They provide practical strategies to navigate your workspace safely and efficiently to lower your risk of painful injuries.
Muscle weakness is a common complication of bad posture—and a key factor contributing to body pain, strain, soreness, and stiffness. Strengthening exercises are a simple and effective way to increase strength and improve posture.
Physical therapists are specially trained “movement experts” who provide exercises to build strength in the right muscles and promote proper alignment throughout the body. Your physical therapy treatment program is tailored to your unique needs and goals, based on the specific tasks and movements that are a part of your job.
Staying in one position for hours at a time is not good for the mind or body. Schedule time throughout your day to switch positions, walk around, stretch, and be away from your screen (if you use one.)
If you have a standing desk, consider alternating between sitting and standing during the workday. If not, try to squeeze in a 5–10-minute walk for every hour you work—even if it’s just a lap or two around the office. Movement not only eases the stress on overworked muscles and joints, but it also gets the blood flowing to help you feel refreshed and recharged.
Yes. Remote workers can be just as prone to injuries as employees who report to the office. Focus on creating a safe and healthy work set-up that encourages good alignment and reduces stress on your wrists, neck, shoulders, and upper back.
All of the tips above can help employees who work from home. Try to switch between sitting and standing during your work shift. Standing for as little as five minutes per hour can lower your risk of back pain. If you can, set aside another 5-10 minutes per hour to stretch to reduce pain and stiffness and improve your mood and mental alertness. If you tend to get lost in your work and “forget” to take breaks, set a timer on your phone to make sure you get some mandatory relaxation in. Your mind and body will thank you!
If you have pain or discomfort due to a workplace injury, we can help. find a physical therapy clinic near you.