Injuries are a part of law enforcement, an accepted fact of the job. Most injuries occur from predictable event such as arresting a subject or a foot pursuit. But many injuries occur from simply walking or training activities. 24% of all injuries are deemed “overexertion” injuries where the tissue fails under stress or load. With the average cost of an injury around $5k and lower back injuries around $14k we have a problem. If an officer is forced to be out of work for over 90 days data shows that there is less than a 20% chance that they will ever return to the street.
One of the most important things that we can do to stay injury free is to choose exercises that will not hurt us. While this seems simple in concept I see officers every day that are doing exercise that will hurt them. Am I happy that they are in the gym? absolutely but there is a better way. In previous articles I talked about postural distortions and biomechanical patterns that lead to tissue failure and injury, I strongly encourage you to reference those articles.
Whether your department tests you physically or not you have an obligation as an officer to be able to perform the tasks of your job while keeping yourself safe and injury free. Fitness and wellness is a necessity not an option, have pride in the uniform your wear and the skills that you possess but that also involves looking the part too. Since there are so many myths surrounding exercise and injury prevention let’s look at fitness myths first.
First let’s delve into some of the many myths and misconceptions surrounding exercise. There are many officers that try hard to stay fit and healthy in our high stress job. Sadly some of the common exercises used to prevent injury do just the opposite, they actually encourage it. Take the back extension, commonly thought to “strengthen the back” this exercise actually loads over 890 lb of compression on the spine. As officers you sit a lot, to complicate that you lean forward a lot. Sitting and leaning forward for long periods causes constant load on the spinal disks and fatigues the back extensor musculature, to further load this tissue with a dangerous exercise and do repetitions, sometimes with weight makes no sense, there is a better way.
The abdominal crunch is what we all think of when it comes to exercising the abdominal wall, leg raises are usually a close second. Again what we know we may know wrong. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set the action limit for lower back compression at 3300N or 730lbs of compression on the disks. Repetitive loading above this has been clearly linked to higher injury rates, but this 730lb compressive load is imposed on the spine each repetition of the sit up, no matter what variation you try! There is a better way.
Data clearly shows that prolonged trunk flexion especially with twisting and while seated vastly increases injury chances. Frequent lifting, pulling and pushing and poor torso muscle endurance have also been shown in numerous studies to increase injury risk. So with all the inherent risks in our job what is a law enforcement professional to do?
1) Use corrective exercises to counteract the effects of your job. A corrective exercise simply works to “fix” the imbalances that our job causes. Hip flexor stretching to decompress the pelvis reduces load on the disks. Simple exercises like over head cable pulls, bird dogs and lateral planks are safe and extremely effective exercises to not only prevent injury but help you get fit, and no machines needed.