In the context of sports medicine and athletics, the process of warming up with active muscle contraction has long been utilized as a way to successfully prepare the body for physical activity. Although many workplace health programs encourage stretching to prevent injury, there is little medical evidence to support the effectiveness of such a practice. The inherent benefits of warming up, however, can and should be applied in an occupational setting in order to combat the detrimental effects of overuse injuries.
The human body holds extraordinary potential to protect itself from musculoskeletal disorders, and warming up has been proven to be the most effective way to use this potential by preparing the body to handle repetitive and strenuous movements with resilience.
Musculoskeletal injuries and disorders that result from overuse can be prevented by warming up, which can be performed quickly and easily before engaging in strenuous physical activity. In terms of musculoskeletal function, workers are no different from athletes. Just as athletes must warm up before engaging in rigorous physical activity, workers need to physically prepare themselves for performing stressful, repetitive tasks.
Why Not Stretching?
A growing body of research has revealed that the age-old mantra of “stretch, stretch, stretch” does not, in fact, help prevent injuries or muscle soreness. Numerous studies show that those who stretch instead of warming up before an activity demonstrate a decrease in overall performance . Injuries and muscle soreness also appeared more significant in people who had a high level of flexibility and stretched before physical activity.
Comparing the act of stretching to a warm-up can best be understood in the context of muscle physiology. The muscles in the body are constantly working together to create limb movement; when one muscle group contracts, the opposite muscle group lengthens in response . Warming up activates these muscles through either lengthening (eccentric contractions) or shortening (concentric contractions) while generating force.
Stretching, on the other hand, simply lengthens the muscles while it remains in a passive state; it does not require muscle activation. By increasing the range-of-motion in certain joints, stretching often causes unnecessary lengthening of tendons and can be dangerous when performed incorrectly .
Proper warming up can be accomplished only by performing active movements using external forces. Stretching, which calls for people to push and pull on their joints, is not active in this sense and does not in itself warm up the body.
Performing active movements with resistance will challenge the muscles and warm them up even more rapidly. Unlike stretching, warming up challenges the body to trigger all the built-in elements and mechanisms that will help prevent RSIs and MSDs. Because performing repetitively stressful movements throughout the day is physically taxing, warming up must become a consistent habit for people who engage regularly in these movements.