Tactical Athletes

Lending Support

By Tracy Howard

While Kelly Scott is only 22 and conscious of protecting her body while working as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) for a home-care agency, she occasionally feels the effects of the job’s physical demands.

“On certain days, at the end of the day, I do lie down and say: ‘oh, my lower back is killing me,’” shares Scott, who lives in Caledonia, Ontario.

Typically, Scott, who’s also in nursing school, sees about seven primarily elderly clients in an eight-hour shift, helping them with tasks like getting out of bed, bathing, dressing and meal prep.   

To ease the burden on Scott’s back and help prevent injury, we sought the counsel of Jennifer Johnson, a Certified Athletic Therapist and the owner of the SMART Clinic, which provides mobile clinics to employers across the Greater Toronto Area. “It’s about preparing your body for what you do day in and day out,” advises Johnson. “Instead of having that reactive role of ‘I feel pain, I need to talk to someone’; it’s about being proactive and asking ‘what can I do so I never feel it?’”

Healthy mechanics

Scott says one of the job’s biggest challenges is lifting people without assistance. “You’re by yourself most of the time, so someone who may be easy for two people to help out of bed, is not as easy for one person.”

Although Scott says she practices healthy lifting techniques, such as not bending at the waist, Johnson provides additional insight.

“Good body mechanics are the first line of defense against any type of injury, especially a back injury,” counsels Johnson. Lifting techniques she recommends include keeping feet flat on the floor with one foot in front of the other to help with stability, bending at the knees, keeping the patient close to your body and avoiding twisting the spine.

Push, don’t pull

Scott says another tricky task is bathing bed-ridden patients who don’t have beds that can be raised or lowered. She advises that just helping someone sit up in a conventional bed can be difficult. “Even though I’m not lifting all their weight, you wouldn’t believe how heavy a head is!”

Although Johnson applauds Scott’s practice of sitting in a chair beside the bed when giving a sponge bath, she suggests a couple of tweaks. “Change the position to push the upper half of the patient up instead of pulling them up.” And to avoid sitting in one position for a long time, which can fatigue muscles, Johnson suggests Scott switch sides of the bed during the process.

Exercise prescription

Scott shares that she works out regularly, focusing on strength-building, such as core work, which she says has helped her with lifts.

Johnson gives this high marks, citing the benefits of an overall strengthening program that includes total-body exercises. But she also suggests Scott try an exercise genre that may be new to many of us: dynamic balance work.

“Dynamic balance is how our body moves in space,” explains Johnson. “Since how we move is not always on one plane or with stability, balance work can help the body react to unforeseen circumstances.” Two examples Johnson cites are squats on a balance cushion or with eyes closed.

Stretch yourself

As Scott sees many of her patients for just one hour per shift, she spends a lot of her workday driving from home to home. She finds the driving uncomfortable and complains of stiffness.

As a counter-measure, Johnson suggests Scott do dynamic stretching before or after driving. Some examples are leg swings, body twists and arm circles. Additionally, she recommends Scott do other stretches throughout the day to help increase her range of motion, improve posture and overall flexibility.

Adding some of these tips to her routine should help Scott care for herself while she cares for others.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
Jennifer Johnson

BPhEd(H), DipSIM(H), CAT(C)

Jennifer graduated from Brock University with an Honours degree in Physical Education. She then went on to obtain her Diploma in Sports Injury Management from Sheridan College in 2003. Jennifer opened up the SMART clinic and began specializing with the Industrial Athlete and has set up Athletic Therapy clinics on-site at various industrial settings across the GTA.  These clinics use Athletic Therapy’s critical thinking, assessment and rehabilitation skills to keep employees working and preparing them for the motions they do on a daily basis. Currently Jennifer manages the industrial athlete clinics, which provide services to over 5000 workers, and treats various clientele at her private clinic in Mississauga, Ontario.