Musculoskeletal injuries: The most common type of injuries sustained in firefighting
Lower body injuries, such as knee pain and lower back pain, are found present to a high degree among firefighters
By Daniel Borowick
First responder populations are known to suffer a relatively high number of musculoskeletal injuries. Musculoskeletal injuries consist of many complications affecting our muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues. They produce pain and a loss of daily functionality.
Some of the most commonly sustained types of musculoskeletal injuries to first responders are swollen muscles, Achilles tendon injuries, sprains/strains, rotator cuff injuries, dislocations, shin pain, and knee and lower back pain.
Potential musculoskeletal injuries can occur through exertion, twisting, turning, running and jumping during a call. Consider the physical impact of rescuing occupants during a structure fire or conducting ventilation operations on a pitched roof.
why knee and lower back pain?
A diagnosis of knee pain can be caused by degrading cartilage at the knee, a bone bruise, or tissue irritation. Lower back pain can be caused by a strained muscle, which may cause muscle spasms, posture problems, or a tight back.
When lower back pain occurs, it can be traced back to the equation for power which is: Power = force x velocity. Force is the level of exertion or effort that your body produces and the speed of movement is velocity. Therefore, if a firefighter is geared up and moves slowly, twisting from side to side in a controlled manner, the power produced is minimal because the velocity is slow and controlled. In this instance, the risk of injury is minimal because the force is at a very low level.
However, in the scenarios mentioned above, the firefighter produces a higher velocity to execute the action – correlating to a higher output of power.
Additionally, depending on the amount of time a firefighter is sedentary at the station, this can also lead to imbalances in our muscles and the core musculature, which equates to lower back pain and/or injury. This is why it is so important for firefighters to train as tactical athletes and become proficient in moving their body optimally in the three anatomical planes of human movement, including the sagittal, frontal and transverse planes of motion.
Specific exercises can address knee pain and lower back pain. These exercises can also serve as a preventive measure to alleviate pain before duty. Watch the video below to learn about three exercises you can do before or after your shift to help with any aches or pains.
Standing back extension, glute bridge and walking toe touch exercises are demonstrated in the above video. Start small, but if you have a well-devised program of dynamic exercises and stretching, then you will become more flexible, mobile and agile. In return, the concerns of slower and restricted movement can be mediated by your ability to move or function better for optimal job performance.
About the author
Daniel Borowick, MS, CSCS, and founder of DOMEX Strength and Fitness, LLC, is a former DEA special agent and physical task test administrator who has over 27 years of tactical experience in state (New Jersey State Police) and federal (DEA) law enforcement. Currently, he is a strength and conditioning specialist serving the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division’s Holistic Health and Fitness Program. You can contact Borowick on Facebook, email, or LinkedIn.