To Stretch or Not to Stretch - What is the Bottom Line?

The implementation of a stretching program has long since been a source of debate, as research has been inconclusive in finding positive outcomes to preventing workplace injuries through in-house stretching programs. So why are companies in every industry still investing time and money on stretching programs for their workers?

The answer likely lies in the potential positives of stretching. The science of stretching has been proven to increase muscle flexibility and range of motion and has shown positive effects on muscle circulation, posture and even stress relief. All of which, lead to an overall increase in muscular health and well-being. Whether an injury is acute or cumulative it stands to reason that an individual with these muscular traits should be better able to recover from injury. This alone could positively impact an employer's ability to return people to work.

Research studies struggle to find reductions in injuries as a result of workplace stretching programs however there has been results showing a positive increase in worker perceptions of physical conditioning, self-worth, attractiveness and strength (Moore, 1998). Positive psychosocial factors such as improved perceptions have shown high correlation with decreased loss time and injury reporting.

When we consider the impact to our corporate bottom line another study completed among municipal fire fighters showed that over a two year recording period employees that stretched had “time-loss costs for stretchers were significantly lower than for non-stretchers, $45,597.00 versus $147,581.00 respectively" (Elcosh). While medical costs differed from $39,775.00 for stretchers versus $87,550.00 in non-stretchers (Hilyer, 1990). This indicates that although stretching programs do not decrease a company's incidents of MSDs they can highly impact the financial cost of each claim thus minimizing the amount of time an employee is off work and the degree of treatment required.

All things considered implementing a stretching program requires thought and strategy. Important factors such as the type of stretching program (static, ballistic, PNF); time allowance and employee commitment makes a huge impact on the results a company can expect.

If you are looking to implement a stretching program into your facility consider the following:

  • Have a warm up prior to stretching
  • Implement a static or PNF type stretching program
  • Obtain employee buy-in (i.e. make posters using employees etc.)
  • Seek appropriate resources
  • Ensure injury stats are tracked to build a case to support your program

Remember though, always look at finding ways to minimize or eliminate workplace MSD hazards first.

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