First responders. It’s both a job description and a term that demands respect from all quarters, as it describes the men and women who are among the first to arrive and assist at the scene of an emergency. First responders include our police officers and firefighters, emergency medical technicians and volunteers who are trained to deal with crime scenes, terrorist attacks, accidents and natural disasters. Their jobs involve high levels of stress and risk, and as a result, it is important that they do everything that they can to optimize their own mental health and physical wellbeing. Unfortunately, in the course of their many job responsibilities, they often suffer injuries themselves, and these frequently lead to joint, back and shoulder pain.
The statistics on injuries suffered by first responders are eye opening. Because they are so frequently lifting victims and carrying them to safety or to receive medical treatment, emergency medical services professionals reportedly suffer 20 soft tissue injuries every day. Firefighters can get injured when lifting victims, dragging hose lines, or even as a result of using poor posture when sitting around the firehouse, waiting for a call to come in.
If you are a first responder, there are a number of important steps that you can take to protect yourself from injury. These include:
- Paying attention to your physical fitness to ensure that you are in good condition. Carrying equipment and performing lifts means that you need to have good posture and a healthy spine. Take time to let yourself get some exercise, paying special attention to performing functional lifts that are similar to those you do on the job each day. The goal is to have a strong core. Planks and back extensions can both help you to avoid injury and give you additional strength and balance when you need it the most.
- Use proper lifting techniques on the job, recognizing your own limits and using assistive technology like power cots or self-lifting carts where appropriate. When necessary, turn to your colleagues for help. Trying to go it alone may seem like the easiest decision at the time, but can lead to chronic back pain that lasts for the rest of your life or requires medical intervention.
When first responders rush in to lift a victim to safety, they use their back, their bones, their muscles and connective tissue as tools of their trade, and this puts them at risk of injuring muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and disks. Improper lifting is the most common cause of disk herniation and other injuries, and awkward postures that they may need to assume in extricating a victim can make matters even worse. First responders need to make sure that they are using proper technique and positioning, as well as to respond and seek medical help as soon as symptoms begin to appear. Trying to “tough it out” or “power through the pain” can lead to injuries growing worse over time and becoming more difficult to effectively treat.