They’re the first to help those in emergency situations, but first responders are among the most selfless when they experience pain or injury of their own, says Apex physical therapist Brock Monger.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), more than 22,000 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) first responders suffer on-the-job injuries each year – about 8 percent of the workforce.
“Ironically, one of the main reasons first responders are injured on the job is because they are unlikely to report injuries in the first place, or won’t seek treatment unless the pain becomes unbearable,” said Monger, co-owner of Apex Physical Therapy in Madras. “EMS workers often tough it out and work through bruises, scrapes, or sprains, which can only exacerbate injury and pain-related issues down the road.”
While some injuries to police officers, firefighters, EMTs, etc., are obvious – they’re all rigorous jobs, after all – others, such as potential injuries to the musculoskeletal system, can be more difficult to spot.
For example, the CDC reports that 34 percent of first responder injuries were sprained ligaments or strained muscles, 35 percent were from overexertion, and the rest were injuries to specific body parts such as the shoulders, lower back, or hands.
“Common on-the-job tasks and movements like heavy lifting, repetitive strains and motions, and trips, slips and falls can lead to pain and injury that should never be ignored,” Monger said. “But be it pressure to do the job or a general sense of duty, first responders – like athletes so focused on competing – have a tendency to want to tough it out. But what seems small now, if left untreated, can lead to bigger injuries down the road.”
To combat such issues, Monger recommends the following three-step approach to first-responder health. It’s a strategy that includes taking steps to prevent injuries from happening in the first place, quickly identifying the signs of potential injuries and getting help from a physical therapist or personal physician.
- Exercise Regularly, Consider a Warm-Up Routine: Staying in shape is a good way to optimize your overall fitness and functional abilities at work, particularly in a physical career. By always maintaining a fitness regimen – one that focuses on strength, cardio health, flexibility and balance – one can take steps to reduce injuries and, if they happen, hasten healing. Consider some form of pre-shift warm-up if possible, the movement systems of the body perform best when given the opportunity to prepare for demanding movements. If you need help with a warm-up routine, check with your local physical therapist, athletic trainer, or other fitness experts.
- Frequent Check-Ups: Getting an annual health physical is key. Consider seeing a physical therapist annually can improve a first responder’s ability to identify any weaknesses or imbalances when it comes to the musculoskeletal system – issues that can be corrected before they lead to on-the-job injury.
- Know the Warning Signs: If experiencing recurring pain that doesn’t improve with movement or rest, unusual pain or tightness in the back or neck, radiating pain into the extremities, or compensating for movement limitations or weaknesses that weren’t always there – it’s time to get some assistance. Such issues can progress into more serious conditions if left unchecked and untreated by a medical professional like a physical therapist.