Workplace stretching programs aim to prevent injuries, but are they effective?

In an effort to prevent injuries and thus increase productivity, many workplaces are implementing workplace stretching classes—some of them mandatory.
The StarTribuine reports that every day at the massive Mall of America, which employs 11,000 people year round and 13,000 during peak seasons, employees must gather in a hallway outside of the administrative offices. There, the ride operators, maintenance crew, and paper pushers stretch to music for 10 to 15 minutes.
Inspired by similar programs at two large construction companies—Mortenson and PCL—the Mall of America employees have been participating in the once-a-day, mandatory Stretch It Out program for almost a year now. At Mortenson, construction workers stretch twice daily: in the morning and after lunch. The company’s safety director Chris Tschida said, “By warming them up, by loosening their muscles, we started to see a reduction in soft-tissue injuries.” But such programs can be controversial.
workplace stretching

The Mall of America has a mandatory stretching program for all of its employees. From Jason Pratt.

The popularity of workplace stretching programs comes at a time when the efficacy of stretching has come under scrutiny. Recent studies have suggested that “static stretching” before exercise does not minimize the risk of injury and may even adversely affect an athlete’s performance.
Others take issue with the cost-effectiveness of workplace stretching programs. These critics question whether the time taken out of the day to stretch would not be better spent working. If there is in fact no strong correlation between stretching and injury prevention, then those critics would be right.
Studies on this front have been inconclusive. A report from the Labor Education Research Center in Oregon said: "The few available studies specific to workplace stretching programs suggest that stretching at work enhances worker health and decreases the severity and cost of treating [injuries], but fail to definitively prove the case for or against stretching."
Regardless, the Mall of America is taking stretching seriously. Company executives have even been known to check the office around stretch time to make sure that everyone is participating. Resistance, while futile, has also decreased since Stretch It Out’s initial launch. Now, employees enjoy the routine, with departments taking turns leading the stretch and picking music. If your workplace doesn’t have a program, here are some simple stretches you can do on your own, with minimal embarrassment, whether or not your job involves operating heavy machinery. Shoulder stretch: Place one hand under your elbow, lift and stretch your elbow across your chest while keeping your torso in place. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly return to start and repeat with your other arm.
workplace stretching

The shoulder stretch. From Rhona-Mae Arca.

Upper arm stretch: Lift arm and bend it behind your head. Place opposite hand on elbow and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly return to start and repeat with your other arm.
Chest stretch: Place both hands behind your head. Squeeze shoulder blades together and bring elbows back as far as is comfortable while still feeling a stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
workplace stretching

Chest and upper back stretch. From Rhona-Mae Arca.

Chin tuck (to loosen neck and shoulder muscles): Lower your chin to your chest while facing straight ahead. Hold for 13 to 30 seconds. Repeat.
Side neck stretch: Face straight ahead; tilt your head so that your ear moves toward your shoulder, not the other way around. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on other side.
Lower back stretch: Sit forward in your chair. Grab the back of your thigh and bring your knee toward your chest while keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat with the other leg.

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