by: Dr. Keith Holder
Occupational medicine (OM) is continuing to see the rise of the aging worker. Some estimates are suggesting a 38% increase in the workers age 55 years and older from 2010 to 2020. As the aging workforce increases, so does the increase in injuries associated with physical labor, especially the back.
While people cannot control their age, they can focus on maintaining a healthy weight and minimizing the stress on their backs. Begin eating a healthy diet and getting enough calcium and vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis. Strengthen the back muscles and tighten the abdomen by swimming or walking. Strengthening the core will also increase balance and decrease the risk of falling. Occupational medicine prefers to concentrate on preventing back injuries.
Another way to help ensure the right person is hired for the job is a preplacement physical. To help evaluate the prospective employee, a physical exam can include a functional lift test and agility test. Identified problems can be addressed early to prevent significant injuries. OM doctors perform physicals on individuals to determine if they are fit to perform a job. A preplacement physical can prevent a candidate from being hired who would have been at risk to injure himself or others. Many companies require prospective employees to meet physical requirements due to the level of risk involved in the jobs.
Unfortunately, back injuries are seen in many job occupations–such as nursing, construction and factory work. Some common causes of back pain at work are: force-moving or lifting heavy objects, repetition or repeating certain movements–especially those of the back, and inactivity or sitting in a chair with inadequate back support.
Occupational medicine physicians are specially trained to examine and diagnose injuries. These injuries are usually occurring at the workplace. Examinations focused on the injury are to be followed up with diagnostic testing as necessary. Occupational medicine physicians are interested in returning the injured worker back to their pre-injury level of functioning.
It is important that the doctor listen to the employee to understand the symptoms and what the job requirements are. It is best practice to have an understanding of the employee’s job requirements at the time of the first visit for an injury. This will enable the physician to understand the kind of job to which the employee is returning. Most back injuries can be treated conservatively and will heal nicely with appropriate exercise, medication and, occasionally, physical therapy. Occupational physicians must be able to provide the company and the employee with documentation explaining what was done and what, if any, restrictions are in place to prevent further injury, as well as when the next follow-up is scheduled.
Some occupational clinics will have a nurse specifically dedicated to assist the companies with worker’s compensation cases. This person can help streamline a process and help with the case managers. This can make a worker’s compensation case go much more smoothly.
Dr. Holder joined Cooper Clinic in 1997 and established the Occupational Medicine Department. A graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Medical Sciences, Little Rock, he completed his Occupational Medicine residency at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD. Dr. Holder is Board Certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine specializing in Occupational Medicine.