For many exercise professionals, the goal of training and educating clients is to improve health, increase strength and performance, and improve fitness parameters. The concept of reducing injuries may not be high on their radar screens.
However, in American business, the aspect of doing anything that will reduce injuries (and health insurance costs) is of utmost importance. So much so that many businesses, universities, and manufacturing companies are hiring wellness professionals as part of their efforts to reduce heath care costs.
One aspect of providing a wellness program to companies is to define your services. Will you be performing ergonomic analysis?
Is a comprehensive stretching program part of your offerings?
Will employees be able to train in a health club environment?
Will there be any post-rehab therapy services available?
Many wellness programs segregate their services from ergonomics – which is a certified practitioner who may perform intrinsic (body mechanics), or extrinsic ergonomics (fitting proper equipment to the employee). Wellness programs are also not athletic training or rehabilitation, but may incorporate some of the elements of each of these disciplines.
Wellness services concentrate on sound basic exercise, stress management, aerobic conditioning (walking/machines), massage therapy, weight management, smoking cessation, and general health services (coaching, phone follow ups, etc.).
Perhaps the most important aspect of wellness programs (other than great instruction) is defining outcomes. HOW will employees lose weight? Will gaining core strength reduce total lost days? Can stretching and balancing programs reduce total medical payments for low back pain?
Outcomes will make a program successful. Results from university programs show that regular exercise programs may reduce back pain levels by up to 50%. Workers who have less pain won’t mind coming into the office more often. These same programs help reduce total low back injuries (many by over 75%). Most importantly – these programs save money. From the Steelcase programs in the mid-1980s to programs today – people who are actively engaged in regular exercise, range of motion, massage therapy (chair massage), core training, balance training, nutritional intervention, relaxation training, smoking cessation, and regular health monitoring (body weight, body fat, blood pressure, specific blood lab values) improve health, reduce health risks, and save appreciable dollars over companies that do not provide these services. It is not uncommon for the return on investment to be higher than 4:1. This is remarkable considering most wellness programs have a modest budget.
Speaking of a modest budget – many wellness programs can be done well even if inexpensively. For a staff of 200 employees – approximately $2,500-3,000 can be spent on fitness balls, rubber tubing, dumb bells, stretch mats, and flyers can suffice to produce good results. Other equipment that may be used would include relaxation CDs, or a machine called Resp E Rate, which is a biofeedback unit that works to reduce heart rate through specific music programming. TENS units and chair massage may be used for pain management. Although these modalities are usually found in a PT office, they can be used anywhere where staff experience chronic pain levels that are not threatening.
The power of the wellness practitioner may also be the power to refer. When an employee experiences high levels of pain, depression or anxiety, or an injury or condition (blood pressure) that will not normalize – they need to be referred to medical personnel. It’s actually a great feeling to have a network of providers that can assist in bringing an employee to a more healthful and productive place in their work status.
In closing – the field of injury reduction and prevention is one of the fastest growing areas of health promotion – and should be investigated thoroughly. Some resources below may give wellness instructors some insight into the area of injuries, safety, and certifications. Remember, too that employers in private sectors companies may pay well for services that save them money. This is yet another reason to look into this interesting and challenging health promotion field of the future.
Eric Durak is President of MedHealthFit – a health care education and consulting company in Santa Barbara, CA. A 25 year veteran of the health and fitness industry, he has worked in health clubs, medical research, continuing education, and business development. Among his programs include The Cancer Fit-CARE Program, Exercise Medicine, The Insurance Reimbursement Guide, and Wellness @ Home Series for home care wellness.