Less pain, more gain

Spectrum Health athletic trainers help large companies cut down on work-related injuries, boosting productivity and profits.

Luke Sytsma has a hands-on job as a mechanic at Weller Truck Parts in Wyoming, Michigan.

When a troublesome cyst grew on his hand and he needed surgery, he worried it would affect his ability to do his job.

With the help of the Spectrum Health Orthopedics program, Orthopedics at Work, Sytsma is back in full gear just a few weeks after surgery, checking the quality of rebuilt truck transmissions.

Kira Olds, a Spectrum Health athletic trainer, is working with Sytsma to break down the scar tissue on his surgery site.

On a recent workday, amid the sound of air tools and forklifts, Olds visited Sytsma at his work station. She instructed him to hold his right hand up as she put pressure against his palm.

She demonstrated hand exercises and massages he could do at home to improve his range of motion.

Sytsma said the therapy isn’t just helping the healing—it also saves him a lot of time.

Without visits from Spectrum Health physical therapy, occupational therapy and sports medicine clinicians, Sytsma said he and other Weller employees would have to leave work to visit medical offices. They’d also have to shell out money for insurance co-pays.

With this in-the-workplace program, employees with work-reported injuries can get treatment without ever leaving work.

“It’s sweet that we can do this right here on-site,” Sytsma said. “It’s very convenient because otherwise I’d have to leave work every day to go for PT and OT. Having it right here it’s like, ‘Bam, I’m done.’ I don’t even have to punch out.”

Not only does Olds help with injuries after they happen, she’s constantly evaluating employees as they perform their duties, suggesting new ways they can proactively prevent injuries.

Proactive changes

As Sytsma plied his trade, Olds monitored his progress. Sytsma checked the tightness of transmission bolts and sprayed liquid on the transmission, then looked for leaks and confirmed the component had been geared properly.

Weller employees used to regularly lift and carry 25-pound transmission parts, two at a time. Olds and company safety team personnel encouraged employees to use carts to transport the transmission parts from Point A to Point B.

She also adjusted work station heights to match employee height, and she’s adamant that employees use on-site 200-pound magnets to hoist heavy items. She also coaches workers on the proper way to pick up items or hold an air tool.

Sometimes, she’ll grab the tool herself just so she can know what employees are experiencing.

“I like to be hands-on,” Olds said.

Nate Potter, health and safety coordinator for Weller Truck Parts, said he’s noticed a huge statistical difference—and great cost savings—since initiating the Orthopedics at Work program two years ago.

“Having on-site service has been a key component to keeping injuries down,” Potter said.

Real numbers, real life

In 2014, Weller had 168 reported injuries. That number dropped to 69 in 2015, then to just 34 last year.

The benefit isn’t just for the workplace, Potter said.

“It means we can send our people home uninjured so they can go bow-hunting, fly-fishing and take their kids sledding,” Potter said. “Their quality of life is important and we want to help them maintain that as well. We’re trying to take care of our industrial athletes.”

A better quality of life improves the company’s bottom line, too.

“Not only have we really improved the human side of things, the cost savings from that reduction of injuries is jaw-dropping,” Potter said. “Our costs have declined by over 50 percent since 2014 between worker’s compensation, actual injury costs, and indirect costs.”

Olds said she loves her job. She grew up working on cars with her dad. Blending sports medicine with truck medicine is a fulfilling niche.

Her 8-by-12-foot on-site office includes a massage table and a poster outlining the human musculoskeletal system.

But perhaps most of all she loves being out on the floor, seeing the mechanics of the trucks and the mechanics of the human body at work.

“When I am out on the floor with the employees for a new injury, I will do a brief evaluation, talk about the history, watch them work and then give a few suggestions for the immediate term on what to adjust or try,” Olds said.

She’ll then set up a meeting for a more thorough evaluation, and if needed she’ll also set up a massage or get the employee some non-rigid splinting for an injury.

“Or talk to their team leader about possible job rotation options, if necessary,” she said.

Shouldering the pain

After working with Sytsma, Olds walked outside and then headed into another Weller building, where she met up with employee John Cornish.

Cornish recently injured his shoulder pulling a pallet from a shelf.

“It didn’t even hurt when it happened,” Cornish told Olds.

But a few days later, the pain shifted into high gear and wouldn’t slow down.

Olds has been working with Cornish on a job specific stretching and strengthening program, which Cornish said is convenient.

“I don’t have to go see a physician and pay a co-pay,” Cornish said. “Having all this occupational healthy therapy in here is one of the coolest things our company has done. It shows me they care about us.”

Cornish has had on-site massages for his neck and shoulder.

“It helps tremendously,” he said.

Dan Clapper, supervisor of the Spectrum Health sports medicine program, said the Orthopedics at Work program has been a huge hit since it launched in January 2014 with the Grand Rapids Chair Company.

The program now includes 10 partner organizations from Holland to Reed City, with seven on-site athletic trainers.

“This program was developed to provide preventive-based health care to local businesses with a primary focus on musculoskeletal disorders, which is the highest type of injury for many organizations,” Clapper said.

Certified athletic trainers help reduce OSHA-recordable injuries, as well as reducing the cost of workers’ compensation, Clapper said.

Ultimately the program enhances on-site safety.

“Their extensive knowledge of prevention, evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders makes them the perfect on-site presence to provide this type of service,” Clapper said.

If you feel you could benefit from the Spectrum Health Orthopedics program, please call 616.267.8860.

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Comments (3)

  • This is a great article and a tribute to the outstanding service and dedication of our onsite athletic trainers and the befits employers are experiencing. Of course it also helps to have great partners like Nate and team at Weller!

    • Thanks, John, for your kind comments. It’s amazing what great therapists and athletic trainers can do to help us live better!

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