Managing Return to Work Aches and Pains

man lifting box

One of the unfortunate experiences of an employee who works in manufacturing, is occasional layoffs or in some cases an extended period away from work.  Over the past several months many people have experienced an extended time away from work due to the covid-19 pandemic but recently employees have gradually began returning to their regular work routine.  As we return to our places of employment and re-adjust to the physical demands of our jobs, we undoubtedly will experience an onset of aches and pains. Thankfully a majority of these aches and pains will resolve on their own or with some basic interventions. 

Athletic Trainers see this happen time and again as athletes return to their sport after an off season or returning to play following an injury.  As athletes return to their sport, no matter how intense their rehab routine or off-season training, they will have to work through similar aches and pains as they re-adjust to the demands of their sport.  One of the goals of rehab or off season conditioning, is to prepare the body physically to better manage the intensity of muscle soreness.  “Industrial Athletes” are no different.  Although the physical demands of those that work in the industrial setting may be less intense, industrial athletes place similar stress on their body but at a lower intensity for several hours at a time. 

As many employees navigate through this re-adjustment process after an extended layoff such as the covid-19 pandemic, athletic trainers are able to utilize our expertise to help minimize the aches and pains when returning to work.  Regardless of whether one is an athlete or an “industrial athlete”, a common component in this process for both populations is proper physical conditioning to prepare our bodies to tolerate the demands of the job.  As previously mentioned, the discomfort experienced is generally unavoidable.  However, if physically prepared, the intensity of soreness will be less and will resolve in a shorter period of time.   

At one time or another, a majority of us have experienced muscle soreness after participating in a physical activity.  Why does this soreness occur?  Muscle soreness results from microscopic damage to muscle fibers, which occurs when you force your muscles to work harder than they are used to, or use muscle groups that are not utilized regularly.  Muscle soreness that comes along with an increase in activity level or performing unaccustomed tasks, although unpleasant, is a “necessary evil” we must endure.  This is how muscles become stronger and develop endurance.  In addition to muscle soreness, repetitive motions that go along with performing a particular job task, also contribute to muscle tightness.  This lends support to the importance of performing a regular warmup and stretching routine before, during and after ones shift.  Stretching also helps maintain joint range of motion and prepares them for physical job demands. 

In addition to muscle strength, endurance and flexibility, nutrition, hydration, practicing healthy lifestyle habits, getting proper amount of rest, practicing proper lifting techniques, and cardiovascular conditioning are other components that should not be neglected.  It is important to understand that these components are equally important.  Practicing all of these behaviors together give the body the necessary “tools” perform and recover. 

  1. Proper nutrition
  2. Hydration
  3. Pre-shift, post break and post shift stretching
  4. Muscle strengthening / endurance
  5. Practicing proper lifting and moving techniques
  6. Smoking cessation
  7. Limit alcohol intake
  8. Getting adequate amounts of rest- can vary depending on shift
  9. Maintaining proper level of cardiovascular conditioning

To learn more about our Industrial Medicine program visit

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