The construction industry is, without a doubt, a physically challenging environment in which to work.
There is a plethora of information about health and safety available, but not much is spoken about the toll on the body of the people working physically on the coalface.
There is a certain accepted inevitability that builders’ knee and back problems are not unusual for those of us who pull on a toolbelt and go to work every day.
You can almost pick the older contractors who, although fit and wiry, often walk with a gait or limp that they aren’t even aware of.
A bloke I know was just like this. He’d had knee and back problems for as long as he could remember and accepted this as normal, even though he would often have to rest up all weekend just to get through the following week’s work.
Various pills would help ease the pain, and it all became simply a part of life.
When one hip started causing continual pain he became more worried because he knew other builders who had had hip replacements. They confirmed that this was how the problem started for them, and that a replacement hip operation would probably be only a couple of years away.
This was the last straw so he went to his doctor, who hadn’t been able to do much about the knee problems to date — who then referred him to a physiotherapist.
While good at getting regular health checks, this was only the second time he’d actually been to a physio in the 30 years he’d worked in the industry.
Within a few minutes the physiotherapist diagnosed that his whole body was twisted, probably as a result of continual lifting and twisting over the years.
After a couple of months of treatment, sessions and more stretching and strengthening exercises at home, a quite remarkable outcome occurred.
Not only did the hip feel better, but also, first, one knee then the other responded, repositioning themselves correctly and, slowly but surely, the pain reduced and eventually disappeared.
Apparently the hip and knee problems were a result of a twisted upper body and back and, over time, the body had compensated for the loss of correct alignment.
Apparently it is rare to ever need two hips replaced, as a twisted upper body, which is the common problem, will normally only affect one hip.
The key it seems is to be aware of keeping your body aligned and your upper core and back straight at all times. This can be practised when walking, as posture is important, and also walking with a heel-to-toe movement instead of being flat-footed helps.
Lifting correctly is essential, and it is important to teach the younger members of our industry this.
You may have guessed by now that the bloke in the story is actually me. It was a big lesson about how important it is for people in our industry to engage more with physiotherapists and doctors at the first sign of a problem.
My physio Anita Walsh has some great words of wisdom to offer.
“If something hurts we then move in a different way — and that’s not the right way. The brain becomes used to that pattern of moving, and further injuries can occur. The brain has to be retrained — it’s not automatic.”
A big role of physiotherapy is helping people to move correctly so they don’t get those secondary consequences.
When a person is under the care of a physiotherapist, he or she should expect to have an exercise or stretching programme as part of the treatment. This can be done at home or in the gym.
“If a patient hasn’t been doing that programme or has forgotten what to do, they should book in for a biomechanical assessment,” Ms Walsh says.
“We need constant reminders and reinforcement. Become a friend to your physio.
“We get warrants of fitness on our cars, but we don’t on our bodies, until they break down,” she says.
“So get a warrant of fitness on your body — they are much more precious than our cars.”
I have followed Anita’s advice and get an assessment every six months — and I have never felt better.