A physiotherapy treatment plan to tackle common injuries gives seafarers the tools they need to take control of their health and careers. HCPC registered physiotherapists Jennifer Cardew and Ruth Sunderland offer their insights on why preventing musculoskeletal injuries can be a game changer for seafarers.
Whether you work on a vessel or a land-based dock team, you work hard. We know that seafarers work long hours in challenging environments and, as a result, are more likely to be injured than those in other jobs. Injuries, whether to the back, knee, neck, or shoulder, are a common workplace reality that many seafarers and shore-side workers will face.
Seeing the impact musculoskeletal injuries have on seafarers encouraged Sandra Welch, the CEO of Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS), to get in touch with Jennifer to discuss creating a physiotherapy resource that SHS could offer free of charge.
We knew that SHS had been working with physiotherapists for several years and felt that some preventative exercises that target commonly injured muscles would be a good tool allowing self-treatment while at sea with limited access to medical treatment.
A slip, trip or direct blow resulting in an injury is relatively easy to understand and treat because it is clear what caused it and the injury is often visible. Other injuries however develop gradually. They may come about through moving poorly, moving in a very repetitive manner, or not moving enough. This type of injury typically isn’t noticeable until it starts affecting your work, sleep or even your ability to climb stairs.
As state registered physiotherapists we see all sorts of seafarers, some in jobs that are constantly physically demanding and others who are more sedentary. Either group can experience similar injuries. What changes is how we approach the treatment, as we know that someone who works on a fishing boat will have different requirements than somebody working in a ferry cafe with the same shoulder injury. This made it important to choose and demonstrate exercises that could be used by anyone.
We recognise that not everyone has the luck to work onboard large vessels with medical and physiotherapy amenities. When creating the exercises, Jennifer made sure they could be completed with only a chair. The exercises can be either downloaded or printed out, as SHS wanted to make sure that everyone could have access to them.
The use of these exercises as a preventative toolkit can help reduce the likelihood of you needing to go on leave due to injury. Reducing exposure to an injury also means that you are in better condition and less likely to miss work opportunities, avoiding long gaps in your CV due to medical leave. We want you to have as many freely available resources as possible at your disposal so that you can keep healthy, satisfied at work and providing for your families.
We know that recovery from these injuries can vary, which can cause stress, affect finances, and affect mental health, especially if you are still working. We know that not everyone has the option to take medical leave, which is why these exercises focus on preventing injuries and giving you a way to take more control of your health.
Benefits of professional help
In some cases injury can worsen, and the exercises may not improve severe injuries. In these instances we advise you to seek professional help through physiotherapy. Seafarers of any nationality operating in UK waters who do not have the funds for treatment can access physiotherapists like us through SHS.
Most people don’t realise that physiotherapy can treat a range of conditions, such as respiratory issues or women’s health, not just sports or work injuries. Ruth often emphasises to her patients that it’s important not to suffer in silence – the quicker you access help, the better. That’s why we urge you to access SHS’ extensive free physiotherapy resources today to get help with your musculoskeletal injuries as well as other medical conditions.
These physiotherapy resources for seafarers, including preventative exercises, can be found here
In 2020, the BSEE determined Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) to be the leading cause of nonfatal occupational injuries, with 157,290 cases attributed to strains alone.
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