The work that manual therapists do is physically demanding. Practitioners often use repetitive movements, hand force, static loading and awkward postures in their work, all recognized risk factors for developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The therapist’s age, general health, previous injuries and other personal physical and emotional factors are additional risk factors. It is not surprising to learn that, as a result of these factors, manual therapists experience high rates of MSDs.

The keys to managing the risk of injury are to:

• Reduce your exposure to risk factors as much as possible. You can do this by modifying the risk factors you can change (like repetitive movement or awkward postures), and maintaining awareness of and developing coping strategies for those you can’t change (like your age or previous injuries);

• Treat symptoms early and effectively, to keep them from leading to injury.

Proven methods exist to lower the incidence of work-related injury. Many of them involve making simple but important changes to activities, both at work and elsewhere; others will take more thought and practice to apply. But taking the necessary steps to prevent injury is much easier and less disruptive to a therapist’s career than dealing with an injury once it has occurred. Ideally, all students should learn effective injury prevention and ergonomics techniques during their training, to prepare them for the challenges of their future careers.

A holistic approach to injury prevention

Decades of research have shown that reliance on just one tactic, like improving body mechanics or doing strengthening exercises, is rarely effective in preventing MSDs. Since multiple factors are involved in causing work-related injuries, a successful prevention strategy must be holistic and multifaceted, combining many of these tactics to address all of the potential causes.

There are five primary steps to injury prevention:

1. Maintaining awareness of the risk of injury in your work
2. Understanding how risk factors cause injury
3. Reducing risk factors through ergonomics
4. Developing good body mechanics and work practices
5. Taking care of your general physical and emotional health, including physical conditioning.