How digital MSK solutions can help American warehouse workers address back and joint injuries

January 24th, 2021  by  Dr. Dylan Peterson, DPT – - Physical Therapist at Hinge Health

The American workforce are the athletes of everyday life. Distribution center workers, for instance, are lifting hundreds of pounds and moving and standing on their feet during 8- to 12-hour shifts. Yet they don’t always have access to the support that could help them perform at their top level.

Workers and athletes share many similar physical risk factors for injury. But great athletes employ experts such as nutritionists, personal trainers, physical therapists, sports psychologists, and physicians. These athletes know they can’t do it alone. They need great support teams to forge their mind, craft, and body and keep them healthy and uninjured.

Roger Federer may be the greatest tennis player ever. He’s one of the oldest active players at 39, he holds the record of 20 Grand Slam wins, and he’s still ranked in the world’s top 5. How does Federer continue to be the best year after year? Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, said in his podcast Against the Rules, “Roger Federer, one of the greatest athletes in the world, has 10 coaches.”

Workers performing physical jobs and athletes share many similar risk factors for injury, but resources and support that help prevent or treat injuries can be hard for workers to access. Digital musculoskeletal (MSK) solutions are improving access to services that help prevent, treat, and reduce injuries and disability.

Enhancing the game for American workers, the athletes of everyday life

An article in Physical Therapy notes, “Exposure to mechanical spinal loading linked to . . . work and/or sport . . . are known to be associated with disabling low back pain. This interacts with other factors such as (pain related behaviors), habitual movement patterns, levels of conditioning, perceptions of fatigue, general health, and psychological factors, to increase the risk of pain.”

Technology, by making health affordable and time efficient, is paving the way for a warehouse and manufacturing workforce to up their game.

One client suffered debilitating back pain after moving heavy wine barrels. His MRI showed multiple disc bulges. His back pain kept him from running and mountain biking and disabled him from work in the wine industry.

When we first met, two years after the initial back injury, he was still unable to work. Many people are in a similar situation and are suffering from long-term pain that could be addressed with the right care. In fact, 80% of people in pain are not receiving evidence-based care and are suffering in silence.

When an injury like low back pain strikes, it’s worrisome to anyone. But for someone whose job is lifting and moving objects all day, it can cause financial hardship, social isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Here are 3 ways employers can provide the care warehouse and manufacturing workers need.

1. Provide holistic care with a complete clinical care team

Recent research findings are helping us reevaluate old traditions and pave the way for recovery through new approaches to back and joint health. Supported by research, a more holistic approach to care offers people in pain a different path to recovery. A couple of months after I began working with my client from the wine industry, he was deadlifting 90 pounds a couple of days a week, learning helpful lifting techniques, running and walking a few miles a day, and developing the mindsets and behaviors necessary to control and overcome his pain. Out of this, he acquired the confidence to start applying to jobs, knowing he could control his pain despite bulging discs still being present on his MRI. This more holistic approach to care accounts for mindset, lifestyle, and behavior changes and helps provide more effective outcomes for participants.

For example, Hinge Health’s Digital MSK Clinic offers a complete clinical care model that surrounds workers with full-time physical therapists, physicians, health coaches, and digital technology that enables high quality remote care. Our team of physical therapists create a customized care plan and our health coaches spur behavior, mindset, and lifestyle changes necessary for recovery.

Hinge Health is built on cutting-edge education and behavior-change techniques that empower workers to improve not just their pain but also their mindset, health, and quality of life. By making expertise in coaching, rehabilitation, and science accessible through technology, Hinge Health is changing lives at lower cost.

2. Provide care along a worker’s entire MSK journey

Employers will also want to provide care along a worker’s entire MSK journey such as prevention & wellness earlier in the process, not just when a member needs surgery. Our Hinge Health Digital MSK Clinic covers the entire MSK Care Continuum including prevention & wellness tips by job type to help warehouse and manufacturing workers before they get injured, addressing acute and chronic MSK conditions, and surgery rehabilitation. We also offer Expert Medical Opinion to help steer employees away from invasive surgery interventions and into more effective conservative care. By intervening early and often across the continuum of MSK care, Hinge Health’s Digital MSK Clinic results in better outcomes for workers at lower spend.

After implementing Hinge Health’s program, US Foods, a leading food service distributor, saw an average 54% reduction in back and joint pain for its predominantly warehouse workforce. This resulted in a 53% decrease in MSK medical claims and a 56% decrease in MSK surgery medical claims over a 3-year period.

3. Instill healthy habits that help prevent MSK injuries

Prevention is a key part of avoiding MSK injuries in the first place. Here are a few tips to help avoid MSK injuries in your warehouse workforce. ADD

  • Dedicate time to exercise! Elite athletes are often moving and practicing all day long, yet an important part of injury prevention for them is specifich exercise training. Similarly, warehouse workers are moving and lifting all day long. That does not mean they can skip exercise. Dedicating time to exercise shows the best evidence to preventing injuries.

  • Keep objects close to the body when lifting and take a break if you are tired! While lifting while tired or with an awkward posture can cause a new episode of pain, pain researchers Kieran O’Sullivan and Mary O’Keefe also remind us that lifting is “not dangerous or doing damage” to our backs, even if at times it causes injury. In fact, while we used to think that lifting with our backs was bad, new research is showing that lifting with a round back may be just as safe as with a straight posture. “Back pain does not mean your back is damaged”.

Through virtual 1-on-1 physical therapists & clinicians, behavioral health coaches, and sensor technology, Hinge Health offers a holistic approach to reducing chronic back and joint pain from the comfort of your home. If you are an employee, ask your employer or health plan if they offer Hinge Health. To find out more about how Hinge Health can help provide a complete clinical care team for your warehouse & manufacturing workers and reduce your medical claims, request a demo below.

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Dr. Dylan Peterson, DPT
About the Author

Dylan is one of Hinge Health’s Clinical Specialists. He is originally from Minnesota and earned his BA in Philosophy with a minor and Psychology at Fort Lewis College. After that he earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at California State University - Sacramento. When he is not in the office helping the Hinge Health community as a physical therapist and pain consultant, he is an avid trail runner and not-quite-sub-4-minute-miler.

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