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Guard Against Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries among South Carolina municipalities, according to data reported by the SC Municipal Insurance Trust.   

The data reveals that strains and sprains are not only common, but also very costly for the risk pool. In 2022, the municipalities reported 440 sprain or strain injuries. The payout so far for those 2022 claims is more than $3 million, and many of the claims remain open with even more expected to be paid out. Fortunately, these injuries are usually preventable.  

A sprain is caused by ligaments being stretched beyond their normal limits, and sometimes getting stretched in the wrong direction. A ligament is a connective tissue that holds bones together. The most common type of sprain is when ligaments — for example, in the ankle — are overstretched.  

A strain is similar to a sprain, except that with strains, the muscles and tendons, which connect muscles to bones, are affected. A strain injury occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched too much and tears or pulls away from the bone. Strains can be caused by overusing a muscle or using a muscle an incorrect way. The most common type of strain is to the shoulder.    

Sprains and strains can happen suddenly or develop over time. Strain injuries can occur when workers try to pull or lift a heavy or awkward object without help. Sometimes, a lift is too heavy for one person, or poor body mechanics are used when lifting. Sprain injuries can occur to lower extremities, such as the ankle or knee. The employee may experience a twist or flexion of a joint beyond the normal limit. For example, if an employee is walking on an uneven surface and rolls, twists, or turns their ankle, the tissue can stretch causing injury.   

Here are some ways employers can help in preventing sprains and strains injuries:  

  • Administrative controls – this includes establishing good work practices:  

    • Have a written plan for preventing back injuries.  
    • If lifting a 50- or 75-pound load, require an employee to use a mechanical device or get help from a coworker.  
    • Eliminate or reduce awkward postures with ergonomic modifications to work tasks or work areas.  
    • For workers who have physical jobs or work outdoors, require good-quality work boots that lace up to protect the feet and ankle joints.  
  • Employee training – employees should be trained on proper body mechanics and lifting techniques: 

    • Lift correctly by keeping the back straight and bending at the knees.  
    • Carry loads close to the body and at waist level. Before any heavy lifting, warm up by doing stretching exercises.  
    • Always lift slowly and smoothly.  
  • Job hazard analysis – complete an analysis of job tasks by breaking down each step of a job to identify potential hazards. The goal is to eliminate or reduce the identified hazards that can pose a risk to employees. For example, if there is a task that requires the worker to bend over even slightly, adjust the height of the work to prevent the employee from needing to slump over.  

Workers should be encouraged to know their limits. By taking a few steps to ensure appropriate practices are in place and training employees in proper ways of lifting heavy loads, strains and sprains can be prevented.  

For additional guidance or information on preventing strains and sprains contact loss control staff at