Over half of Australian tradies consider aches and pains a normal part of the job.
Many tradies take the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to getting professional help for minor injuries and aches – until they worsen and become serious. These workplace injuries can take a large and painful toll on a tradies’ physical, mental and financial health, with 190 serious claims by tradies made every day according to Worksafe – yet the majority of musculoskeletal injuries sustained at work are preventable by taking small, simple steps to look after your body.
Despite being undervalued and often taken for granted, your body is your most important tool, so today our physio team have shared the top three injuries we see in tradies day in and day out, and the simple ways to help prevent them that you can start doing today.
1. Back Pain
Back problems already affect one in six Australians – and for tradies, this rate is even higher, with back pain being the most common injury experienced. ‘Back pain’ is an umbrella term with a wide range of multifaceted causes and predisposing factors. For many tradies we see, it’s the repetitive twisting of the torso, lifting, bending and carrying that places a great demand on the muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and discs in your back.
To help prevent back pain you can:
- Optimise your work environment – adjust the surfaces and heights you’re working on to prevent those awkward, back-straining positions
- Get your technique right – for example, using your legs and glutes to help lift loads
- Get involved in our exercise classes (e.g., Pilates, gym-based programs) – each session is custom tailored to promote the right strength, flexibility and stability for your trade and any areas of weakness or existing injuries
2. Knee Pain
Knee pain can occur because many trades require repetitive kneeling, crouching, squatting, climbing ladders and the like. For some of the tradies we see, it’s the constant kneeling that really bothers them, because doing so stresses and strains the soft tissues and cartilage of the knee joint, resulting in pain and dysfunction.
To help prevent knee pain you can:
- Use knee pads – you wouldn’t nail in 300 nails by hand when you have a nail gun, and you shouldn’t subject your knees to these forces when you can use pads and knee guards to better protect your knees and limit strain. While this still exposes your knee to forces and pressure, we understand that sometimes you don’t have a choice but to kneel – so take the extra care to protect your knees
- Start with solid foundations – if you’re starting with tightness or weakness in the muscles that attach to and surround your knees, your risk of knee pain can increase. A common example we see in tradies with knee pain is having a tight lateral quadriceps muscle – the muscle on the outside of the thigh that attaches to the knee. Get a physio assessment so you know what’s happening with your legs, and use tools like foam rollers and strengthening programs to best prepare your body to stay injury-free
3. Elbow, wrist and forearm pain
We often see elbow, wrist and forearm pain in trades like carpentry, plumbing and among electricians – those that are constantly or repetitively drilling, gripping, lifting, planing, sanding and twisting. This strains and overuses the tendons that attach to the wrist and elbow, especially when the arms are held in a suboptimal position and the tendons don’t get much of a break between tasks.
To help prevent elbow pain you can:
- Change your grip and position – just because you’ve been doing it for years and it feels like second nature, doesn’t mean you’re holding and using your tools correctly – if you’re getting pain, it means that something isn’t working well and your technique can be improved
- Strengthen your arms – a simple strengthening program by your physio can make a world of difference. Optimising your strength means you can better withstand the demands placed on your arm muscles and tendons for longer
Our Physios Help Tradies Prevent Injuries At Work
While the three injuries we’ve mentioned are ones that we commonly see and treat, there are plenty more you may experience as a tradie. From slipping and rolling your ankle, to getting a stiff and painful neck – when your body is the tool you use the most and for the longest at work, there are plenty of opportunities for injuries. This makes taking care of your body and treating any pains before they become unbearable incredibly important.
Our physiotherapists here at Allsports work extensively with tradies to keep them safe and healthy at work. We see tradies that have new injuries, longstanding injuries that they’ve been putting off in the hopes that they’ll get better on their own, as well as tradies who need to be able to work so don’t want to take the injury risk (meaning time off work), working to prevent new injuries arising or previous injuries from flaring up. Remember:
- Don’t rush – before you start a task, take the time to make sure you’re in the right position, you know the plan, you’ve got the technique, and you know it’s safe. It may take you a few extra minutes per day but it’s much faster than weeks or months of recovery.
- Warm up – you wouldn’t jump into a professional sports’ match without warming and preparing your body – so why do you jump into your career that sees you using your body for 8+ hours a day without warming it up and getting it ready? Warming up promotes your flexibility and function, helping minimise your injury risk
- Have the right tools – we’re not talking about your level or pliers, but having the right boots that stabilise, support and help control your ankle, using any braces and supports you need to, and wearing your orthotics in your work boots if you have them
- Strength & flexibility – your body is your greatest asset when it comes to work, and optimising your strength and flexibility means your body can best support you throughout the days, months and years
- Technique check – if you’re not sure, or if something doesn’t feel right, have your technique checked – from lifting to holding, the right technique makes it easiest for your body to stay pain-free and prevent overloading
- Keep your mind in the game – when we’re distracted, it’s easy to forget about technique, positioning and all the important things that prevent injury
- Get help as soon as the niggles start – Getting help early prevents your injury from progressing and worsening, saving you time, pain and money