Being a police officer ain’t easy. Forget about all the racially-charged debates regarding use of force these days… it’s a tough job physically. If you’ve ever wondered why, try wearing a full police uniform to quickly find out. It’s heavy. It holds a badge, a front-facing camera, and a belt strap with tools like hand-cuffs, pepper spray, a gun in its holster, and more. It’s no wonder officers rank high amongst the most common workplace injuries.
But that’s not where it ends. They spend loads of time in their police cruisers and must quickly respond to emergencies. Imagine working at a desk and having to jump out of your chair and run to the meeting room quickly, multiple times a day. The act of going zero to a hundred consistently alone is troublesome for the human body.
As a result, some of an officer’s most common workplace injuries include neck, shoulder, and low back strains. Here’s the tricky part though – a lot of them will work through the pain, brushing it aside as something that comes with work. However, as I’m sure we’re all aware of neglecting the body when it needs you the most isn’t ideal…
Here are two practical ways we can bullet-proof our police officer’s body in the line of duty:
Number 1: Building the Stabilizer Muscles of an Officer
The first muscles/tendons that typically give out during an injury are your stabilizers. They’re the smallest and weakest muscles we have. You might be wondering why we even have them, eh? Put it this way – their role isn’t to necessarily move the body, it’s to help the other bigger muscles do so more effectively.
Most of our stabilizer muscles attach to the joints that have the greatest ability to move. These include our shoulders and hips. Because they move so well, the trade-off is that they’re not as inherently stable as other joints like the elbow and knee. As a result, the shoulder and hips rely more heavily on muscles to stabilize them. The good news is, we can train these stabilizers to better support us.
So how does one go about training these muscles? As much as this sounds like a shameless plug, you need to get properly assessed by a physiotherapist. Based on our findings from assessments, we can determine exactly what muscles need to strengthen and what joints to open up. This will help build a tailored protocol that you can use to address specific requirements out of physio; especially if you want to protect against the most common workplace injuries you may face while in uniform.
We can generally talk about what needs to be done though. Common targets for strengthening include your rotator cuff and gluteal muscles – they help stabilize the shoulder and hips respectively. Areas we typically need to open up include the front of both the shoulders and hips. Most restrictions occur here because of the constraints officers put their body’s in when on duty or in the office. Their shoulders are constantly fixed forward and they must sit in a cramped cruiser for extended periods of time.
As one of my clients said it best, “my colleagues were shocked at how much taller and bigger my chest was after doing physio”. This shock tells an interesting story – most officers have poor posture, but the moment they see someone without it they’re surprised.
Number 2: Have a Routine for every Break in Action
Police officers sit longer than we think. I initially assumed that officers ran a lot while on duty, and that simply came from my experience watching police dramas. Clearly that wasn’t the best source of knowledge about what they do on a daily basis. Yes, they do respond to emergencies swiftly and must go from zero to a hundred. But prolonged sitting is their predominant position. Extended periods of time spent sitting can have damaging effects as well, putting one at higher risk of a workplace accident.
If you’re not getting up at least every 30 minutes, you’ve got a problem. It’s called hunched sitting posture. As the culprit for the most common workplace injuries a cop faces, sitting for long periods of time is bad for anyone. Our body does this thing where it curls while sitting, causing your back to hunch over, chin to poke, and shoulders to be stuck in a forward position. You can try sitting upright all you want, gravity will eventually win in the long run.
We adopt such poor positions because it puts us in what I like to call “the path of least resistance”. Bad posture is the lowest energy consumption on our bodies in terms of sitting position. This is why we do it without even thinking. It’s also why it’s so hard to keep upright – it’s an uphill battle against gravity, a force that never gives up no matter how much we try.
Rather than fighting an uphill battle, we need a different strategy to overcome this burden. Over-correction is the concept I describe to my clients/patients. It’s the concept that pushing yourself into the opposite direction of a prolonged position can help undue many of its negative effects. Take sitting for example. We know what our body does over time in this prolonged position. The over-correction strategy to combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting involves the following:
Setting aside 30 seconds every 15 minutes to stand up.
Stretch your body into the exact opposite positions of sitting.
Do any/all of the following:
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Put your hands on your lower back, bring your hips forward, and take your shoulders back.
- Tuck your chin in.
- Stretch your hamstrings and calves.
- Rotate back and forth.
- Stretch your arms overhead and back.
- Hip swings.
This simple concept does two things:
First, It promotes blood circulation. Sitting too long causes your blood to pool, which runs you the risk of future heart problems. Moving every 15 minutes gets the blood flowing, giving muscles that typically fall asleep a chance to turn on and stay active. Why is this important for officers? Remember the zero to a hundred problem? Moving every 15 minutes is a helpful preventative strategy against potential injuries caused by quickly transitioning between sitting and running.
Second, it prevents your body from getting used to poor positioning. The problem with sitting too much is the body gets “stuck” in these positions even after standing. It’s why we see so many people looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame when they stand. Using over-correction exercises gives the body mixed signals – it tells it that we’re not only going to be in a fetal position all day; that we’re also putting ourselves in a tall, over-extended position too.
The above are general guidelines to use when making you, the office indestructible. That’s not to say this doesn’t apply to my other guys like firefighters and nurses because it does. Start thinking about how you can implement these strategies now by trying the “over-correction” method at work. Spend a lot of time sitting? Stand up every 15 minutes and bend your back (safely) backwards while putting your fists on your back. I guarantee you it will make a difference for you in the short and long term for your health.
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