Sprains and Strains Prevention

Originally published 02/21/2018

Sprains and strains account for about a third of injuries in construction. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, the tough, fibrous tissue that connects bones and other bones. Sprains involve a stretching or a tearing of the tissue. Ankle, knee, and wrist injuries account for most sprains. A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon, the tissue that connects muscles to bones. Back injuries are the most prevalent regarding strains. Depending on the severity of the injury, a strain may be a simple overstretch of the muscle or tendon, or it can result in a partial or complete tear. Maintaining good physical fitness is essential in avoiding sprains and strains.

To minimize the chances of sprains, observe the following practices:

  • Practice safety measures to help prevent falls such as good housekeeping by keeping work areas clear of clutter.
  • Avoid strenuous activity on the job when tired or in pain.
  • Use extra caution when working on slippery surfaces such as ice or wet floors.
  • Always wear appropriate and proper fitting footwear for your job.
  • Use extra caution when walking across uneven surfaces. These are areas where you could easily turn or twist an ankle or knee.
  • When stepping off ladders, always look where you are placing your feet, before you put your full weight on them.

Follow these helpful tips and you will greatly reduce the chance that you will experience a painful sprain or strain:

  • Whenever possible, arrange your work areas to minimize the amount of heavy lifting required.
  • Before any heavy lifting activity, always warm up, using moderate stretching exercises. Do not stretch aggressively as you may over-stretch and injure yourself.
  • Always plan before lifting. Consider the weight of the object, how far you must carry it, and your route of travel. If the object is too heavy, seek additional help or use a mechanical lifting device such as a forklift, hand truck, or winch.
  • Lift objects in the “power zone”. This is the area between mid-thigh and mid-chest height.
  • Always carry objects close to your body.
  • Always lift slowly and smoothly.
  • Avoid twisting. Always turn the whole body as one unit when changing direction while carrying a heavy object.
  • Move heavy objects by pushing or pulling, whenever possible. Pushing is always preferable.
  • Always stand close to the object that you are lifting and be certain that fingers and toes are clear when setting it down.
  • Always lift with your legs and not your back.

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What a Pain in the Knee

Every year, the construction industry accounts for nearly 1.8 million injuries that result from physical strain, and approximately 40 percent of all worker compensation claims involve medical treatment for these injuries. Knee injuries account for a sizable number of reported incidences. Like many injuries, once you injure your knee, you have increased the chances for knee pain later in life.

A survey in the Journal of Civil Engineering and Management revealed 90 percent of all construction workers suffer pain, and 89 percent continue to work right through the pain. When it comes to an injury, suffering is not the best approach to healing. Being knowledgeable about various types of knee injuries and knowing how to deal with them is a much better approach.

Ligament Sprains

Ligaments are bands of strong tissue that stabilize the knee joint. Overstretching can cause the ligament fiber to tear and bleed into the surrounding tissues, causing pain, swelling and a feeling of ‘giving way.’ Severe tears may require surgery.

Cartilage Tears

Cartilage also helps stabilize and protect the knee joint. Pressure from twisting and turning during weight-bearing activities may tear the cartilage, causing pain, swelling and locking of the knee joint.

Tendon Strains

Tendons are cord-like bands that connect muscle to bone. The patellar tendon connects the kneecap (patella) to the tibia (shin). Patellar tendonitis or ‘jumper’s knee’ is inflammation of the patellar tendon. This is an overuse injury commonly caused by repeated jumping.

Patello-Femoral Syndrome

Excessive friction between the surface of the patello-femoral joint (kneecap) and the femur (thigh) can result in knee pain.

So what can you do once you’ve injured your knee? Treatment depends on your specific injury, and what your doctor has to say. Mild to moderate injuries will often heal on their own, given time. To speed the following, you can:

  • Give your knee a rest for a few days and avoid intense activity.
  • Ice your knee for 20-30 minutes at a time, several times a day, for the first two or three days following an injury to help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Compress your knee using an elastic bandage, straps or sleeves to add support or reduce swelling.
  • Elevate your knee on a pillow when you’re sitting or lying down in order to reduce swelling.
  • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil®, Aleve® or Motrin® to help with pain and swelling. These drugs can have side effects and should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.