R epresenting nearly 18 percent of PPG’s non-occupational, overall medical costs each year, muscle and bone health is the largest, most expensive major medical category -- or family of medical conditions -- among PPG active employees, retirees and their families, according to Dr. Alberto Colombi, corporate medical director.
Muscle and bone concerns may not be as costly to treat on a one-by-one basis as other conditions, but the sheer number of incidents annually has a significant effect on the quality of life and health-care costs.
Also known as musculo-skeletal disorders, the muscle and bone category covers numerous conditions ranging from sprains, strains and bone fractures to arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic back conditions.
“Most people will be affected by muscle and bone problems at some point in their lifetimes,” Colombi said.
“The focus should be on prevention, both at work and at home, so we can minimize not only a person’s risk of experiencing these problems, but also the severity of the problems when they do occur.”
There are numerous causes of muscle and bone problems. Most, with the exception of aging, can be avoided. Being in poor physical shape and leading a sedentary lifestyle make a person more susceptible to problems. Other triggers include awkward posture and poor maintenance of muscles, ligaments and joints.
“You have people who don’t exercise every day suddenly trying to do everything at once,” Colombi said. “The body is not prepared for that type of physical workout, and the result can be strains and sprains of underused muscles and ligaments.”
According to Colombi, the key to good muscle and bone health is to maintain a minimum fitness level. Regular exercise keeps the body’s structure primed and ready. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, are particularly good for muscles and bones. People should avoid being overweight, a condition that puts added strain on muscles and joints.
Another major preventive technique is to follow ergonomically correct procedures at home and work. A person who properly lifts an item while on the job should use that technique when lifting heavy items at home. If an employee uses a computer at work, the same procedures to avoid eyestrain and repetitive injuries should be followed at home.
“Employees in colder climates are still in the snow-shoveling season, a time when there’s added risk of back and other muscle strains,” Colombi said.
“Before shoveling, you should always stretch and warm up. Push the snow to make it easier on your back and, when necessary, lift only a minimal amount of snow while bending the legs instead of the back. There are also ergonomically correct shovels available to help avoid snow-removal injuries.”
In addition to work around the home, many muscle and bone injuries occur during recreational activities. According to Colombi, it is extremely important to perform proper stretching and warm-up techniques before starting any sporting and recreational activity. People should also wear the proper protective equipment to avoid fractures, sprains and other injuries.
More serious and costly muscle and bone problems include arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic back conditions. Preventive techniques recommended for sprains and strains -- exercise, low body weight and ergonomics -- also help minimize the symptoms of these longer-term conditions. In some cases, such as osteoporosis, good nutritional habits also provide preventive benefits.
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