Todd Jerome Jenkins, MS, CSP, SMS, CHST, STSC

Safety Aficionado & Ph.D. Student

Weekly Safety Topic – Strains and sprains

The number one cause of lost time work is soft-tissue injuries. Strains and sprains can be controlled by taking a few precautions but first, what is a strain and sprain? Is there really a difference? A sprain is an injury to a ligament, and a strain occurs when your muscle is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. The most commonly injured ligaments are ankles, knees, and wrists. These injuries can occur by being stretched too far or by a sudden hefty load. Things to watch for include pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of mobility in the affected area. Muscle fibers can tear when they are stretched beyond their range of motion. Signs and symptoms of a strain include sharp pain, tenderness or soreness, weakness in the affected area, loss of mobility, or joint misalignment. Sometimes you can hear a snap when a strain or sprain occur.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure couldn’t be truer when preventing sprains and strains. Avoid lifting when possible, using a mechanical lifting device, like a handcart. If you have to lift, use your legs, not your back. Ask for help if something is heavy or awkward.

Slips and trips not only account for many falls, but they also lead to strains and sprains. Good housekeeping and wearing the proper footwear help to prevent exposure to slips and trips. Footwear should fit snugly but not tight and not loose. They should have good traction, but more importantly, they should have ankle support. Don’t forget to tie your boots; loose laces can cause you to trip.

You’re an industrial athlete, and like any athlete, warming up before you start the game helps get your body ready to engage. Take a few minutes in the morning and after lunch to stretch it out. Do some simple stretches for the legs, arms, shoulders, wrists, fingers, and back.

Dynamic movement helps get your machine ready to go. Dynamic movement moves muscles through a specific range of motion, think of a set of deep squats with a pause.

Self-care is appropriate for most strains and sprains. A doctor can’t do an x-ray until the swelling goes down, so you’re not hurting yourself by waiting 48 hours to treat yourself. If you get a minor sprain or strain, you can treat it using the RICE method. Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. Rest the affected area for 24 – 48 hours. Ice the injured area for 20 minutes for 3-4 hours. Apply a compression bandage, don’t wrap it too tight. Elevate the injured area to get it higher than your heart. If you feel like you need medical treatment, go to the doctor. Always report injuries to your employer before seeking treatment for a work-related injury.

Warming up before you start any activity effectively reduces the likelihood of strains or sprains. So, stretch out for a few minutes in the morning and after lunch.

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