Simple stretches to get you ready for work

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It’s an unfortunate reality that injuries and physical dysfunctions occur from time to time in the workplace - many as a result of overexertion, cumulative load, contact of body parts with equipment or furniture, or as a result of falls.

The most common injuries include sprains, strains, tears and connective tissue injuries that affect the muscles, bones, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilages and spinal discs, which are caused by awkward, repeated and prolonged postures, overstressing movements, high repetition activities, or forces which overload the body.

Work injuries cost the economy greatly, with days off work and medical expenses, compensation, and rehabilitation expenses sometimes falling to taxpayers. They also cost companies greatly in terms of loss of production and hiring and training replacement staff. But perhaps the most devastating cost is to the injured worker and their family, who must cope with the physical and emotional trauma of the injury, potential financial hardship, and the loss of quality of life while recovering.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your workplace from the potential consequences of an injury, and increase the likelihood of staying safe at work?

One way to reduce the risk of work-related injuries is to introduce a series of stretching exercises into your weekly regime. Keep in mind that stretching should be part of an overall injury prevention program, and not "stand alone", and also that stretching is unlikely to prevent over-use injuries. Certain stretches can be very effective at preventing injury by increasing the flexibility of muscles, tendons and ligaments, which in turn increases the range of motion in a joint or group of joints. Stretching also improves circulation, improves posture, and relieves stress, which also goes to improving your overall health and wellbeing.

Let’s explore some of these stretches that will help keep you safe, well, and performing at full capacity on site.  

Below you'll see a large image of some of the static stretches I use with my clients. By following each of these you can be certain that you are stretching the entire body effectively and not causing any potential flexibility imbalances. (Photo courtesy of Parker Products - thanks!)

Before you dive in, however, follow these pre-stretch guidelines to ensure you don’t do yourself an injury trying to prevent one!  

  • Warm up before stretching by spending five minutes doing a brisk walk or light jog as the increase in body temperature and circulation makes your muscles more elastic and your stretches more effective.
  • Stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work, and make sure that you stretch both sides. So if you stretch your left hamstring, be sure to stretch your right hamstring, too.
  • Don't bounce as you stretch as this can cause small tears in the muscle. These tears leave scar tissue as the muscle heals, which tightens the muscle even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
  • By holding each stretch for 30 seconds, you'll allow the muscle to relax properly and get the most effective stretch.
  • Stretch gently and slowly, only to a point where tension is felt, and avoid pain. I always encourage my clients to stretch to the point of discomfort, not pain as pain triggers the body's "stretch reflex" response that contracts muscles and tendons and restricts them from being properly stretched.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply. Do not hold your breath as this creates tension in your muscles and makes stretching difficult.
  • Keep up with your stretching. You can achieve the best benefits by stretching at least two to three times a week. If you don't stretch regularly, your range of motion may decrease again.

In some cases, you may need to approach stretching with caution. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, you may need to adjust your stretching techniques. For example, if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause further harm. If in doubt, I recommend you seek an assessment by a physiotherapist who will guide you as to which stretches will be safe and effective for you and your specific needs.

Until next month, stretch well, exercise well, eat well, think well, and live well!

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Mareike Bout is a qualified and registered personal trainer who specialises in holistic fitness and lifestyle coaching. She is a recognised leader in the industry, receiving the peer-voted South Australia Personal Trainer of the Year award in 2008. She is also a regular guest on Adelaide’s top-rating radio station FIVEaa. Mareike runs her personal training business, One Life Live Well, both online and from a private studio in Adelaide. Services include one-on-one training, outdoor group fitness, lifestyle coaching and weight-loss programs. Individually tailored programs encompass aspects of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, positive thinking, life balance, and goal setting. Her approach is to guide, support and educate her clients so that they posses the tools required to live a life of health, strength and vitality!