Many professions put people at an increased risk for developing chronic pain problems. Police officers, especially, can begin to suffer from back, neck, and shoulder pain because of the rigors of the job.
If you work in law enforcement, there are some things you can do to help prevent the development of back pain. Follow some of the advice in this guide to help reduce your risk.
Daily Injury Avoidance
Back, neck, and shoulder injuries come in one of two ways: either the injury occurs from an acute use of force, or it develops over time with consistent harmful habits.
Police are at risk for both chronic and acute pain because they have a higher incidence of physical altercations that could result in injury, and they have postural and weight distribution problems that can cause regular discomfort and, eventually, lasting injury.
The first step to prevent both immediate injury and chronic pain development is to practice daily injury avoidance. Even after graduating from the police academy, officers should:
- Refresh safe defensive tactics often. Wrestling with a suspect or executing a take-down can cause tendon or muscle injuries, especially if these moves have not been practiced routinely.
- Lift heavy objects (including suspects) with proper spine alignment. Use the legs to help lift boxes of evidence or to maneuver someone into a patrol vehicle. Keep your core engaged.
- Sit with good posture. When on patrol in a car, it’s easy to slouch. Engage your core and keep both feet planted on the ground. When walking or standing to secure an area, keep your weight evenly distributed over both hips.
If you keep injury avoidance at the back of your mind throughout your shift, you can avoid some of the injuries that come. Jump with both feet, landing squarely. When exiting a large tactical vehicle, use your hands to assist your weight as you lower yourself out. Tuck your head to roll if you fall down when chasing a suspect.
Policing means long hours, which means that many officers do not stay on top of their own physical fitness. However, regular exercise is one of the best forms of injury prevention. Make time for routine workouts that gradually increase your strength.
Not only do you keep your muscles stronger and your heart and lungs in great shape, but you also increase your body’s stress threshold. Stress tension can be a source of muscle pain, especially in the neck, and if you exercise, your body can better handle a stressful state during police work.
For best results, use a combination of resistance training with weights and cardio training. Cardio training helps with oxygen delivery to your muscles, resulting in better recovery during high-stress situations on the job.
Resistance training increases your lifting strength and your functional fitness. For example, if you routinely do weighted squats, you’ll have better core and leg strength for supporting your movements on the job.
Regular exercise also helps with weight management. Studies show that excess weight can increase your risk of occupational injuries, including knee and hip damage.
Don’t forget about flexibility. Joint injuries are common in police work, especially around the shoulders. When you stretch, you keep soft tissues around your joints in better health so that they are less prone to strain or tearing when they are under stress.
Yoga and Pilates are both excellent for improving flexibility. Many officers don’t practice either; these exercises are not as common in a male-dominated profession. However, the benefits apply to all genders. Begin slowly with a class in your area. You might even be able to find a specialized class that targets first responders.
Ergonomic Gear and Supplies
Finally, you can help prevent the development of long-term injuries by taking steps to make your workplace more ergonomic. You might:
- Lighten your duty belt. The weight of the duty belt is the cause of low back and hip pain. Sometimes, a fully loaded belt can weigh 20 pounds or more. Lighter belt materials (poly instead of leather), and lighter holders for magazines, sprays, and cuffs can take a few crucial pounds off the belt.
- Find optimal placement for gear on the belt. You shouldn’t sit with your belt digging into your lumbar spine. Many officers carry handcuffs along the back of the belt where they dig into the back and create nerve irritation. Adjust items so your spine isn’t under pressure.
- Add extra support. Finally, you can spread the weight of the belt to other parts of your body. For example, you can attach a shoulder and chest harness to take some of the weight of your back and hips. Other officers may use suspenders. You can also get a belt with rounded edges and padding to keep it from digging in.
Take note of even small irritations. If you notice that a certain area of your body is always sore after a shift, find out why. It might be the way you sit, the way your belt hangs, or even the way you stand on one leg when conducting interviews. Correct these early to prevent a bigger problem from developing.
For more information on pain prevention and treatment, contact us at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.