Stretching the Truth – The Truth About Workforce Stretching

Body Mechanics September 27, 2017

Stretching the Truth – The Truth About Workforce Stretching

The current trend toward Workforce Stretch & Flex Programs is not so new. Sure, it’s characterized by a few as unnecessary, irrelevant or even – in extreme cases – harmful. Some of these critics have even gone so far as to misrepresent research to build their paper-thin case. But there’s a more time-honored side to consider. We’ll look at all sides to better understand this topic.

To do so critically, let’s address 1) the true conclusions of that misrepresented research, 2) how Stretch & Flex is actually appropriately applied to benefit employers and their workforce, and 3) the promising published data about the future of Workforce Stretch & Flex Programs. Lastly, we’ll take a historical look at practices and truths we hold to be self-evident, and why it is important to confront spurious challenges when they arise in the marketplace of ideas.

‘If You Stretch the Truth Long Enough – It’ll Admit to Anything.’

In a recent online commentary, a vendor erroneously – or deliberately – cited research claiming it suggested ‘passive static stretching’ reduces performance, reduces strength, reduces speed and reduces agility. There’s only one problem. The research article the vendor cited drew no such conclusion. Not even close.

It was actually the Peck & Chomko et. al. article found in the June ’14 ACSM Current Sports Medicine Reports, entitled ‘The Effects of Stretching on Performance’. A relevant and serious piece of research, this meta-analysis essentially distilled the results of 150+ articles from between 2003 and 2013. It then – admittedly – subjectively divided sports into Strength, Speed and Endurance dominance for convenient categorization. It also divided stretching techniques into Static, Dynamic and PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) categories for convenient discernment.

Unlike the misrepresented conclusion cited by the vendor, the Peck & Chomko article revealed that while static stretching alone might have either no effect or detrimental effects, these results can be easily mitigated – or reversed – by simply including some decidedly beneficial dynamic stretching or warm-ups. That’s it. Develop a well-balanced, employee warm-up and flexibility routine for your workforce, and any transient impact on performance by static stretching dissipates. Hardly earth-shattering news to serious practitioners.

‘Denying the Truth Long Enough Doesn’t Change the Facts’

Those of us who successfully work onsite in corporate and industrial employer settings have known this all along. We apply a very simple and straight-forward Sports Medicine approach to the Research & Development of job title-specific employee Stretch & Flex Programs.

Through a Compilation, Application and Resolution continuum, we do the necessary homework that drives injury prevention, improves workforce performance, and speeds return-to-work recovery. Specifically, we apply Physical Demand Analyses on targeted job titles to gain an understanding of their unique Physical Demand Characterizations of Work. This helps us clearly distinguish between Heavy, Medium and Light job titles.

We then apply what we’ve learned through our analysis to better 1) screen new employees to match their physical capabilities with each job title’s physical demands, 2) coach existing employees in how to better preserve the working body, mind and (emotional) spirit, and 3) triage hard working employees to serve their immediate needs and accurately estimate their return to top performance.

The very same information we gathered through Physical Demand Analyses also helps us better serve the fewer number of employees who require rehabilitation to return to full duty. Our job-specific parameters give us job-specific rehab goals. We benchmark recovery on a predictable schedule, compressing lost time. We also compare job demands to physical capability in the cases where progress has plateaued. This gives us the ability to evaluate gaps in recovery for cleaner case resolution that’s both occupationally relevant and legally defensible.

‘Tell the Truth, or Someone Will Tell it for You’

Just when a vocal few extrapolate broad-brush generalizations from modicums of ancillary data in research articles, along comes a published study that topples this house of cards premise. In the May 2017 edition of ASSE’s Professional Safety, researchers Choi & Sathy et. al. shared the results of their recent study of construction firms between 1 and 3 years implementation of Workforce Stretch & Flex (S&F) Programs.

In the interest of brevity, let’s just cut to the chase. The results of the impact of S&F showed the average number of WMSD injuries between these two periods dropped 51.2%. The average number of OSHA-recordable injuries between these two periods decreased 48.7%. And, in OSHA lost-workday injuries, the average number dropped 60.8%. Now, this study drew from a relatively small sample size, but results suggest that when S&F programs are implemented, the rates of WMSD injuries can potentially be decreased. Significantly.

‘One Final Word’

To quote Thomas Jefferson’s famous words enshrined in our Declaration of Independence – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’. If those who would misrepresent credible research by extrapolating inconsequential minutia to paint an entire practice with a disparaging broad brush, we should examine their motives for doing so.

Clearly, in Sports Medicine we recognize the unique qualities between sports, between positions, and between players. In onsite practice, we approach whole industries, specific companies, and individual workforce members with the very same clarity. Would coaches, trainers, therapists and team physicians blame losses on pre-game stretching? Would decades of practice in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NCAA be harming team performance because they stretched incorrectly? Would our Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines be losing battles because of stretching in their PT routine? Would centuries of practice in the yogic and martial arts traditions be incorrectly encouraging millions to improve their flexibility?

These rhetorical questions obviously are only meant to illustrate a point. When we provide prudent, time-honored Sports Medicine practices toward implementing employee Stretch and Flex Programs, we achieve all the benefits the aforementioned examples enjoy – better injury prevention, better workforce performance, and better condition recovery. There’s a reason we practice way we do. It works – and always has – for a very, very long time.

A little about our author, Matt Jeffs DPT PSM CEAS –

Dr. Jeffs is a safety management advisor for national and international firms, and a seasoned ergonomics educator here at The Back School. Years ago, he excelled as a big-wave surfer and seasoned ocean lifeguard with numerous documented rescues prior to earning both his undergraduate and doctorate degrees in physical therapy. He now serves as a Tai Chi Fitness Instructor in multiple settings, including the modern workplace.

Dr. Jeffs will apply his unique, long-term perspective to this undeservedly contentious trend, offering insight on how to make it work for the most people possible. We hope you will join us for this interesting and engaging topic. If you’re working in a setting with – or contemplating starting – a Workforce Stretch & Flex Program, you won’t want to miss it.

2 thoughts

  • Kenny Young, CSP, ARM, AINS, CEAS

    Didn’t that ASSE article also reference that most of the safety programs saw significant improvements in other areas of safety such as increased training, adding safety staff, improved committment to safety etc? When I read that article a few months back it sounded impossible to link the impacts of stretching to injury reduction because the rest of the safety related variables weren’t held constant.

    • Matt Jeffs DPT PSM CEAS

      Hi Kenny –

      My apologies. If memory serves, I didn’t draw that conclusion from the Choi et al. article. But if you should find that is what it DOES say, I’d welcome the citation.

      To my view, the article relied on a smaller (than I’d like) sample size. That being said, there were controls in place and the results were compelling – which is all we can draw from it at this stage.

      Let’s hope there’s more to come. Thanks for weighing-in. Your input is highly valued and appreciated!



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