Hurting While You Work? Do something about it!
Prevention and Maintenance for the Bodyworker
by Timothy Agnew

The field of bodywork has grown to amazing proportions in the last few years, with hundreds of modalities and endless techniques. With this growth, one thing has not changed; overuse injuries in the field remain steady, with practitioners sometimes undergoing surgeries to correct dysfunctions, and some just finding other careers that are less abusive. Bodywork—whether it is physical therapy, massage, or athletic training—is not easy on the body. Lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, grasping for hours a day, sometimes without a break, is brutal to our joints and muscles. In addition, therapists with dysfunctions often continue to work, thus exacerbating an already irritated condition. I once treated a massage therapist who suffered from sciatic pain that was so intense she literally limped into the treatment room to give her massages. And she did this for over a year, ignoring the pain as best she could.

Yet it does not have to be this way. The secret to staying in the field and injury-free is to maintain the body so it can perform the necessary movements required for this line of work. What we do is not that far removed from factory work; we are placing our bodies into unnatural positions, then torquing them as we lift or push. Over the years I’ve given prevention advice to thousands of therapists and patients, and I often teach it as an adjunct to my courses and lectures on flexibility. Students ask me all the time what they can do to help this problem or that. My philosophy is that simple and specific exercises done on a weekly basis are all that is required to maintain the body. But what exactly do I mean?

In my own practice, I make certain that every patient who comes to me is placed on a simple program of maintenance for his or her particular problem. This is part of my treatment. This program consists of specific exercises in flexibility and strengthening that patients follow on a weekly basis. These exercises are not explained to them once or read off a handout, but are implemented slowly on each visit. The patient demonstrates the exercises to me each time, and I make corrections if needed. The patient effectively becomes her own therapist, safely performing the movements at home. The results for helping conditions with this sort of coaching are mind boggling. Patients are empowered to heal themselves and often see immediate relief.

The same is true with professional therapists. If they are shown the proper exercises to perform and the correct way to perform them, healing takes place very quickly. A therapist suffering from wrist issues begins a simple, precise weekly 10-minute routine designed to open and strengthen the carpal tunnel area. A therapist suffering from sciatica begins performing specific gluteal stretches between clients. As therapists and as human beings, we need to understand that unless we begin to maintain our bodies, they will fail us early. I know many therapists who continue to work in pain and who are so exhausted by their work that they can barely function at home.

Part of the stigma attached to “exercises” is that they are too difficult to do. This is certainly true with many types of exercises. For the wrist, for example, there are dozens of exercises designed to help strengthen it. When a person visits a physical therapist, many times he is given numerous exercises for the wrist when really only one is needed. This is a major reason that person stops doing the exercises. One of the things I specialize in is showing therapists how to effectively strengthen or stretch using minimal exercises that isolate the area. These exercises are enjoyable because they are easy. Also, I stress the importance of continuing the exercises even after the injury has healed. The idea, of course, is to prevent the injury from returning. There is a pervasive mindset that “6 weeks” of physical therapy is all that is needed to heal an injury. While this might be true, and some people certainly do get better in that time, the larger question is how long do they stay pain free once they stop doing the exercises?

With the release of my new DVD, Dynamic Flexibility: a Safe and Effective Self-Stretching Program, I decided to offer a course that would effectively teach the professional therapist how to maintain their work-related dysfunctions. To be honest, I grew so tired of seeing so many therapists suffering while doing what they love, I had to do something. This two-day course will focus on the entire body, both from a flexibility and strength perspective. Student will learn powerful stretch routines that are featured on the DVD (which is included with the course) and simple strength exercises for the neck, shoulder, wrist, and feet. Common dysfunctions will be discussed, and you will learn the precise routine you need to start to overcome them.

There are many of you out there who are hurting while you work, and I hope to see you in this exciting course.

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