One of the most significant health issues of our time is musculoskeletal (MSK) health. Changing working practices, inactivity and stress over the last 18 months have all taken their toll, and often in hidden ways.
Good musculoskeletal health underpins better health and wellbeing for individuals, not only by helping alleviate painful conditions, but keeping people active, fit, and healthy. On average, 18.4 days are taken out of work for MSK disorders, representing a huge cost to individuals, society, the health system, and the economy.
Bone and Joint Week 12-20 October is a time to be thinking about this. Not only about what needs to happen in the health system, but how we as individuals and society can manage our MSK health – especially with NHS pressures. In May 2021 there were 647,450 incomplete pathways for trauma and orthopaedic services – which treat conditions of the musculoskeletal system -, compared to an average of 230,646 across all departments. This represented 12% of all incomplete referral to treatments (RTT) in the NHS.
What can we do to take care of our musculoskeletal health? How do we keep our bones, joints and muscles healthy and functioning?
Here are some top tips from Ascenti, the UK’s leading provider of physiotherapy and selected clinical outsourcing.
Find a good working space
In the office, we’re used to ergonomic chairs, separate monitors, and a well-adjusted desk. At home, these items are often lacking. In fact, research of 2,000 people conducted by Ascenti at the start of the first lockdown in 2020 found that 72% of people work from the sofa on occasion – which might feel comfortable, but isn’t benefiting our bones and muscles. Jonathan Scattergood, Occupational Health Physiotherapy Lead at Ascenti, recommends moving away from the sofa and “recreating the effect of a lumbar support chair by placing a rolled up towel or cushion between your lower back and the backrest. Try to avoid crossing your legs too as that can cause a whole host of posture problems!”
Sometimes we wake up with a pain in our neck, or a creaky back. This can be down to poor sleeping. Debbie Christer is a Consultant Physiotherapist at Ascenti. She says: “Good sleeping habits are important not only for a good night’s rest but to also help improve our quality of life both physically and psychologically. Try to ensure your neck is correctly aligned, by using a pillow to bridge the gap between your shoulder and neck, but not propped up too high or too low. Where possible, avoid lying on your front with your neck twisted as this creates muscle tension. Regular gentle exercises and stretches will help reduce muscle tension and stress. Also, think about other environmental factors – your mattress (which should be supportive but comfortable), the room temperature and duvet tog rating (so you don’t get too hot or cold).”
Get treatment early in a convenient way
Whether it’s waiting lists for treatment, fears of high costs, or just busy lives, too often people put seeing a specialist off. During the pandemic, many people with mobility issues, chronic illnesses like asthma, or injuries that require physio support, saw their conditions deteriorate due to being unable to access treatment or to exercise out of the home. A convenient solution can be an online consultation. Ascenti’s study of more than 27,000 virtual physiotherapy patients shows that online treatment has a positive impact on patients at all injury levels, in particular those suffering minor injuries and niggles. A pleasing 96% of patients have been satisfied with the outcome, and in some cases it has been even more effective than in-person physio. We are so used to doing everything virtually these days, and physio can certainly be one of them.
Pace yourself if you’re new to exercise
Exercise is a key tenet of good health. And it doesn’t have to be challenging. Going for a walk is something we’ve learned to enjoy, and can be a great way to keep fit and active. Yet it’s important not to push too hard, too soon. Alan Young is an Ascenti Regional Manager based in the south. He is an experienced clinician and a walking enthusiast himself, and combines his physiotherapy expertise with his own personal walking experiences. He says: “Often people are very excited, and set goals in their mind, about how quickly they plan to do things. It’s important to accept that you will have good days and bad days, and that factors outside of your control like the weather can also impact on your activity. A rough guideline is that you should always be able to hold a conversation when you walk – if you’re out of breath, then you should slow down or rest for a moment. Pace yourself and enjoy the scenery!”