Employees struggling to commute due to musculoskeletal issues

By Claire Glynn | Head of Musculoskeletal Services
Over half of all employees (51%) experienced joint and muscle pain during the pandemic, which is now making it difficult for many to resume commuting.
Over half of all employees (51%) experienced joint and muscle pain during the pandemic, which is now making it difficult for many to resume commuting.

One in two employees were affected by musculoskeletal (MSK) pain during the pandemic, with one in six (16%) extremely affected, according to recent research.

Now that more employees are returning to the office, calls to physiotherapy support lines are soaring. As employees who haven’t been active in a long time, realise they can no longer walk to the station, without their back hurting. Or cycle to work, without injuring their knee.

Others are finding that weight gain, caused by closer proximity to snacks and sitting for longer periods while working from home, has contributed to new MSK problems. Causing them to experience new pain, niggles and even injuries when using the stairs, for example.

Fortunately, there are three ways employers can help people recover. Ranging from getting people more active again to work hardening.

Three ways to rehabilitate employees affected by MSK issues

1. Gradually increase physical activity

The importance of physical activity and exercise for reconditioning joints and muscles is not to be underestimated. Numerous studies highlight the benefits. However, problems occur when people literally attempt to run before they can walk. Going from months spent shielding inside their house, to attempting to go on a three-mile run for the first time in two years. Or attempting to go on a long cycle to work because that’s what they used to do.

Instead, people need to be reminded that they might have lost physical conditioning if they have become less active or gained weight during the past few years. Then encouraged to gradually rebuild strength. Going for short walks or doing a controlled exercise programme, aligned to clear goals, at the right pace, with their local gym or as part of a group.

Couch to 5K is a free NHS app, with links to park runs, which employers can encourage employees to take part in. Or PAM’s Employee Wellbeing App, features a wide range of exercise videos, for every stage of fitness. Together with goal setting and habit tracking tools to encourage positive behaviour change. While walking football is a great activity for older employees to regain fitness without strain and swimming is a non-impact activity that trains the whole body.

2. Build physical activity into the day

Employees also need to be helped to stay active at work. Especially if they have young children and might struggle to exercise outside of work. So encourage everyone to engage in physical activity wherever possible. Not least by taking regular fresh-air breaks.

Employees who might be keen to do this could feel reluctant to take a short walk if it’s not their lunch break. Choosing to scroll on their phone or browse the internet in-between tasks.

Not only is this bad for their physical and mental health, but it can also make them less productive. Because, if they’ve been working cogitatively hard, they need to use their brain in a different way to refresh themselves.

Taking a movement break, preferably in the fresh air, be this a brisk walk, skipping, a game of boules or just doing some star jumps, will rest their brain. Enhancing their creativity and helping them to think of solutions to problems to make them more productive and less susceptible to MSK issues. So, give employees ‘permission’ to build movement into their day, by getting managers to lead by example and creating a culture where productivity and creativity are valued over sitting at a desk all day.

3. Consider work hardening

Gradually rebuilding activity levels will be enough to help most people regain muscle and joint strength and conditioning. However, if individuals are still injuring themselves while attempting to commute or move around at work, you might want to consider work hardening.

Work hardening focuses on rebuilding their strength, endurance and resilience, so they can achieve their work goals. Be this a return to commuting or certain activities. Work hardening features a series of physical conditioning sessions, based on a biopsychosocial model. This looks at the employees’ motivations and addresses any fears linked to physical activity, typically due to a past injury, now exacerbating the problem.

By giving individuals the insights needed to understand how their body reacts, you can help to quickly rehabilitate them, before the problem gets any worse. As well as give them the individual tools and approaches needed to be able to independently manage their own long-term conditions, improve their quality of life and prevent any MSK disease progression. All of which will help to engage them and reduce the risk of further absence.

Webinar - How to rehabilitate deconditioned employees

How to Rehabilitate Deconditioned Employees

We will be discussing why so many employees have become deconditioned over the past few years and how to help them recover to reduce the risk of MSK injuries.

How can PAM Physio Solutions Help?

Our wide range of workplace physiotherapy solutions includes:

Workplace physiotherapy strategies

Our data driven approach can help you to understand the impact that lack of movement is having on your workforce and create a strategy to mitigate this.

Physiotherapy webinars

Online education sessions to help employees understand the importance of physical activity and acquire insights on how to build this into their day.

Work hardening

Provide employees with access to specialist insights and tools to help them overcome fear of exercise and get them back to work.

Physiotherapy information line (PhIL)

Provide employees with immediate telephone access to a musculoskeletal expert for advice on musculoskeletal injury management. To reduce injury time and risk of further injury.

PAM Employee Wellbeing App

Boost health and engagement with wellbeing tools developed by behaviour change experts, including a virtual gym, goal setting and habit tracking.

For more information about how we can support your people to stay in work and reduce recovery time:

Email: pamphysiosolutions@people-am.com
Call: 01925 989741

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