Education is The Key For Preventing & Treating MSDs

July-August 2012

The following explanation of MSDs and their causes comes from, a certified ergonomic assessment specialist company created and owned by Ed Carpenter, the inventor of Buckingham’s Ergovation saddle. Ed graciously let me use his website and knowledge when crafting this article.

MSDs are disorders that occur from repetitive micro trauma or injury to the soft tissues in the body such as ligaments, tendons, nerves, joints, cartilage or discs in the spine. MSDs generally occur from repetitive movements associated with work tasks; therefore they are also called repetitive stress disorders or cumulative trauma disorders. Examples of MSDs are carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis, shoulder impingement, rotator cuff syndromes, sciatica, sprains/strains and herniated discs in the spine. 

MSDs can be caused by a number of factors, including: repetitive movement, forceful exertions, awkward posture, contact stresses and vibrations and extreme temperature.

When looking at the causal agents for these disorders, it is easy to see why climbers can experience one or more MSDs throughout their career. However Ryan Freeburn, a registered physiotherapist at FreeFlo physiotherapy in Lakefield, Ontario, explains that the issue of MSDs are no more prevalent in our industry than others. Freeburn explains, “Anyone doing a job that includes repetitive motion is at risk. This can include someone working on a keyboard behind a desk as well as a climber pulling him or herself up a tree. The key is how we deal with these issues.” 

Freeburn puts it simply. In order to eliminate or reduce the effects of MSDs you must: 

Prevent. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Freeburn explains that simple changes in your daily routine can make a huge difference in the long term. “Proper posture is a good start. Try to stand and sit properly and not slouch. Be aware of your posture and try to keep your back straight and aligned.” Slouching can be compounded by another issue common to climbers – muscle imbalance. This occurs by over-exerting one group of muscles and not having the opposing muscles as strong or toned. This can create tightness, inflammation and pinched nerves. This is one issue Freeburn has been treating me for – my pectorals are constantly tight and in turn pull my shoulders forward pinching the nerves in my arms. By stretching and strengthening my back, the muscle imbalance will neutralize. Another tip: make sure to stretch before, during and after physical activity.

Recognize Warning Signs. Listen to your body. If you are experiencing sharp pains, soreness, loss of strength or circulation, consider stopping what you’re doing or at minimum, modifying your technique to decrease strain. When you feel tightness and discomfort, stretch, stay hydrated and when at all possible, rest.

Rest. Speaking of which, bodies need to rest to heal. As a business owner and production climber, I know all too well that there is no rest till winter but this type of stubbornness and short sightedness can compromise your long and short term health as well as your safety and production.  

Treatment. There are many avenues of treatment depending on your particular MSD. It’s important to remember that there are no quick fixes – treatment is a process requiring time and dedication. From my own experience, it is all too easy to think you’re fixed and quit receiving treatment only to have the same issue return down the road. 

“Education is key; you need to know what is happening to your body to understand why certain treatments and exercises are prescribed,” adds Freeburn.

These Treatments Can Include:

Deep Friction Massage Therapy. This is a high-pressure massage aimed at increasing blood flow to damaged areas as well as aligning damaged tissues for proper healing.

Ultrasound. Sound wave energy is focused on damaged areas to enhance cellular activity and accelerate healing.

IFC. Small electric pulses create muscle spasms surrounding the damaged area. This is used to block pain as it distracts the nerves surrounding the damaged area.

Arm Brace (tennis elbow brace). Although not an actual treatment, the arm brace works to temporarily reduce strain on the tendon attaching the muscle in your forearm to your elbow. Freeburn explains how it works: “Imagine an elastic band placed around a nail hammered to a piece of wood. The nail is your tendon and the elastic your muscle. When you stretch the elastic, there is equal tension throughout the band and therefore the nail. Now, if you were to put your finger down with pressure on the elastic against the wood and then pull, there would be reduced strain on the nail. That’s what the arm band does; it puts pressure on the muscle to relieve pressure on the tendon.” Freeburn continues, “It is important to remember that the brace just helps to unload the stress on the damaged area and in turn, allows the body to repair itself. In essence, it is allowing your body to rest the damaged area.

A very good friend used to remind me: This job is a physical one, use your body but don’t abuse it, there is life beyond work.” In my youth, I was foolish enough not to heed that advice and am now, like many in our industry, having to deal with the results. On the bright side, Freeburn sheds some light, “Most of these issues are temporary and they are reversible. If people use preventative measures, recognize the warning signs, rest when needed, and receive and dedicate themselves to treatment, it is possible to prevent and reduce workplace MSDs.” 

Have a safe, productive and healthy summer season.  

Our mission is to enhance and promote the care and benefit of trees for present and future generations in Ontario through education, research and awareness.