Too many repetitive movements tire out muscles and may even cause chronic injuries in the long term. However, most repetitive strain injuries can be cured and by using simple methods many problems can be prevented, according to Ingrid Dahl, ergonomist and physiotherapist at the corporate healthcare company Feelgood in Göteborg.
The human body is made for moving. With regular training and all-round, physical work we strengthen our muscles and can manage large strains without risk of injuries. But for many people everyday life is very different from this. Some spend most of the day sitting, while others repeat the same movements over and over again. These passive and static tasks tire out our bodies. We have less energy and gradually things get painful.
– Aches are the body’s response to strains that we cannot really manage. Static positions make blood circulation worse and prevent waste products from being transported away. This increases the muscles’ sensitivity and makes us more susceptible to pain, says Ingrid Dahl.
Muscles are most vulnerable when they are strained at their fullest extensions, such as when we carry something heavy and twist at the same time. Lifting correctly with bent knees and arms and the object close to the body is very important to avoid injuries. Necks, shoulders, backs and knees are the areas most often affected by strain problems.
Among seafarers the most common occupational risk is strain injuries.
– Ships are built as they are and we humans are the way we are, and the two do not always work well together. If you ignore the body’s signals, take painkillers and continue to work as usual, injuries can deteriorate and in the worst cases become chronic. But it is often possible to reduce the problem and the earlier you seek help, the greater are the chances of recovery.
Stress increases vulnerability
The level of strain on our muscles is also influenced by the pace of work. Stress creates a raised level of tension in the body. Shoulders are pulled higher and we become even tenser. If we then add heavy lifts or repetitive movements, the risk of injury is greater than if we had done the same thing in a relaxed state of mind.
– Sometimes the amount of work in a department is quite simply too much and then it is necessary to do something to reduce the pressure on personnel. But how we perceive stress is very individual, and situations that one person accepts with a shrug of the shoulders can make another person double up with tension, says Ingrid Dahl.
On the bridge, for example, there are other sorts of strains. Long, sedentary watches are a big strain on the back.
– These days we have real director’s chairs on the bridge which are very comfortable to sit in. No matter how exclusive, expensive and ergonomic a chair is, though, it is impossible to sit through the whole of your watch without increasing the risk of strain injuries, says Ingrid Dahl.