By Dr. Patrick Welsh |
Low back pain has been identified as one of the most costly disorders among the worldwide working population.¹ Studies also indicate that work stressors, such as high psychological demands, may increase muscle tension and aggravate task-related strain.² When I deliver chiropractic care, I’ve consistently seen low back, as well as elbow, shoulder and neck issues among the office athletes or workers, I regularly treat.
Corporate Wellness, Onsite Chiropractic Care for Office Athletes and More
I work with High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, which has satellite clinics at several corporations. As corporate wellness is a huge focus, I’m at client workplaces one and a half days a week and in our clinic for the balance. My clinic specializes in delivering customized injury risk reduction and health promotion programs, including chiropractic care, for individuals and sports teams, as well as corporate clients and their staff or office athletes. I’ve been practicing since 2015 and while I’m currently an associate, I work like an independent contractor, in a multidisciplinary setting.
In university I studied exercise physiology, was involved in the sports program and became a personal trainer. In that role, I saw many people with back or knee pain and referred them to a chiropractor, as these challenges were outside my skill set. I began to shadow the chiropractor treating my clients and was influenced by the way he practised. He used various tools and treatments to help his patients in multiple ways, which I found appealing. Working with him motivated me to not just send him patients but to strive toward helping them myself, as a chiropractor with a similar approach.
Chiropractic Care Delivery
Each week, another chiropractor and I spend alternate days on-site in a dedicated treatment room at The Globe and Mail, in Toronto. Many office workers feel they are too busy to make time for a midday appointment to take care of their health and after work they must brave the commute home.
With an on-site clinic, an employee can step away from their work to get the care they need to relieve an array of aches and pains, with minimal down time. If someone tells their manager they have joint or muscle pain, they send them to the on-site clinic. Employees feel better and employers see a drop in sick days. We track this progress through a survey each year and can see the benefits our services provide.
Most of these patients come to me with back, elbow, shoulder and neck issues. Many of them live and breathe a repetitive lifestyle, with mental strain that amplifies their pain. In that environment, you can’t understate the connection between mental and physical stress on the body.
I find a typical patient with a repetitive strain injury (RSI) has a gradual onset of discomfort or pain without an obvious injury. Unfortunately, sitting and using a computer for long periods of time intensifies their symptoms. And often, they don’t know why something they’ve done for years could suddenly bother them.
Initial chiropractic treatment begins with patient education about the many factors that create these problems, including their exercise, sleep habits and stress level. Due to their busy schedules, we have to set realistic goals when providing chiropractic care to office athletes. So my focus is around adding small, positive changes, rather than trying to reinvent every aspect of their life. I encourage my patients to use fitness trackers or phone alarm reminders to prompt them to take desk breaks. I often prescribe therapeutic exercises to help them change and get moving in a different manner than one that seems to aggravate their RSI.
My chiropractic care work with office workers informs my work with athletes and vice versa. I help my ‘office athletes’ realize that they must deal with physical stressors, just like sport athletes do. A hockey player wouldn’t skate for eight hours a day. Yet we’re asking an office worker to endure repetitive physical stressors for a full day, every day, five days a week. The parallels with sport often help people understand the importance of training and recovery to maintain their physical health.
In addition to hands-on treatment and rehabilitation, I often co-manage with our Registered Massage Therapist (RMT). Massage positively affects a patient’s mental stress because it helps them shut down and quietly relax. Most RSIs will heal, so it’s important to assure patients that if we can address several factors contributing to their problem, we will improve their odds of a full recovery.
Injury Risk Reduction Tips for the Office Athlete
Most people intuitively understand that they should move or be active more often. I go further and tell patients to move differently, more often. Due to their job demands, office workers rarely use even half of their neck range of motion, as they’re always looking at a computer screen. Even patients who are active, often use forward-facing exercises, such as the treadmill, bike or resistance exercises that don’t involve head movement.
Only accessing a small amount of your movement potential opens the door for a long list of spine, muscle and joint complaints. For this reason, activities like yoga are so beneficial. They put your body through a variety of movements. Regardless of your preferred activity, variety in your movement will go a long way to helping maintain your musculoskeletal health.
Working with Other Health Care Professionals
I’m fortunate to work in a multidisciplinary setting where I can access the expertise of other health care professionals. We work with local physicians in the community, as well as those in a sports medicine clinic, where we refer athletes with specific needs. Once a physician trusts that your care will help their patients’ musculoskeletal (spine, muscle and joint) needs, I find them happy to use us for referrals. I am also old school and like to fax a short clinical note to keep the physician informed of relevant information about my patient, when applicable, as they are a central player in the health care team.
Giving Back to the Community
My professional career isn’t tied to five days a week in my practice. I’m involved in other organizations, committees and sports teams. For example, I’m on committees for the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences (RCCSS) and I helped organize its 2019 conference. This work opens opportunities for me to get involved in various sporting events and sport-related research projects. I’m also the medical coordinator for the 2020 Ontario Winter Games. So, I’m busy organizing all of the first responders and practitioners.
I also teach Athletic Movement Assessment, a continuing education seminar series in Canada, the US and Asia, several times a year. To keep this seminar up to date, I tend to stay informed about current movement science research, which is a constantly evolving field.
If you live outside the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), use the OCA’s Chiropractor locator to find a chiropractor with similar expertise near you.
If you’re in the GTA area and:
- Your organization is considering wellness programming for your office athletes or workers
- You’re an athlete looking to reduce your risk of injuries and optimize your performance or
- You’re an individual seeking chiropractic care…