* Photo by B. Candace Ray. Go carefully: All sorts of injuries can be picked up on the construction site. A crane operator might suffer muscular strain and joint irritation.
* Photo by B. Candace Ray. Go carefully: All sorts of injuries can be picked up on the construction site. A crane operator might suffer muscular strain and joint irritation.
Repetitive stress injuries occur because people get on with the job inured to discomfort. They dismiss their lack of body alignment until a hot bath, heating pad or 'cold one' later removes the soreness from their mind.

But the medical profession recognizes the potential for long-term layoff. The seemingly innocuous off-centre neck movements crane operators make, for example, can pinch nerves. Pain, tingling, tenderness, numbness, stiffness or even muscle weakness in the upper limbs might result. If left unaddressed, the worker's 'minor' problem could escalate and affect every area of the individual's life.

The Bermuda Sun asked physiotherapist Shona Palmer of the Posture & Pain Centre to discuss post-damage treatments. She noted that the crane operator, who might also suffer muscular strain and joint irritation of the cervical spine, would benefit from advice on posture, including the setting up of a postural exercise programme and perhaps cervical traction to relieve the nerve compression.

A jackhammer operator, on the other hand, could be subject to tendonitis of the wrist or elbow. Degenerative changes of the joints might also occur, according to Ms Palmer.

"[I would suggest] ice, electrotherapy modality, use of elbow/wrist splint, manual physio techniques and muscle balance exercises," she said.

Labourers do heavy lifting and carrying, making their shoulders and spines vulnerable to work-related injuries, such as tendonitis, rotator cuff tears, disc prolapse and muscular strains. Here, according to Ms Palmer, the physiotherapist would work with the individual on muscle balance and core stability. He or she would advise the patient about safe lifting techniques and suggest an exercise programme to gradually strengthen the affected areas.

A physiotherapist could also provide guidance with regard to breathing difficulties from the concrete dust on a worksite. And he or she could offer stretching and muscle balance exercises that would limit the muscle tightening caused by working outside in cold, wet weather.

Whiplash injuries from a harnessed fall, chemical or other types of burns that leave skin and muscles less than pliable and partial amputations are other areas in which physiotherapy could assist. But the construction industry worker must be willing to help him or herself to regain stability and range of motion and re-adapt for functional use of damaged limbs.

Ms Palmer's general advice is that all such workers be aware of posture and ergonomics, ensure that their bodies are conditioned to the efforts required by their work and that muscle balance is taken seriously to reduce the risk of injury.

No one should shrug off discomfort. Repetitive stresses can be real, although perhaps unrecognized hazards to the overall health of construction industry workers.

For more information, Ms Palmer can be reached at the Posture & Pain Centre at 296-2273.