The case for micro-breaks to avoid musculoskeletal injuries

Study finds 30 seconds to one minute can create a lifetime of difference

The case for micro-breaks to avoid musculoskeletal injuries

A groundbreaking study led by researchers at the University of Alberta, sheds light on the efficacy of micro-breaks in reducing muscle fatigue and preventing musculoskeletal injuries among workers engaged in repetitive manual labour.

"The research is trying to figure out if we can do a simple method that is cost-effective, that could potentially reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries down the road," explains Karla Beltran Martinez, research coordinator at the University of Alberta.

The study, titled ‘Breaking the Fatigue Cycle: Investigating the Effect of Work-Rest Schedules on Muscle Fatigue in Material Handling Jobs’ was recently published in the journal Sensors.

Repetitive Strain Injury Day is being marked on February 29th and according to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) National Work Injury, Disease and Fatality Statistics report, there were 10,211 accepted lost-time injuries due to musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders in Canada in 2022 (up 2.5% from 2021).

The study findings revealed a significant reduction in muscle fatigue among those who took short "micro-breaks" every 10 minutes compared to those who worked without breaks. Beltran Martinez elaborated on the methodology, stating, "just by doing this, we were actually able to find these differences that we were looking for...significant differences in muscle activities directly from the back, which is more prone to injuries."

The study employed inertial sensors to monitor body motion, providing insights into changes in posture over time. "We're really hoping that industries can see that something as easy as one minute break can make a huge difference in the future of their employees."

Beltran Martinez conducted the research under the guidance of Hossein Rouhani, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering of the University of Alberta.

When it comes to concerns about productivity, ‘my answer is very straightforward’ says Rouhani. “By measurement, it didn't change productivity…there is no significant difference." But Rouhani says more work needs to be done to optimize break time and frequency.

Looking ahead, Rouhani outlined plans to integrate wearable exoskeletons and optimize worker schedules to further minimize the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. "Our current focus is including these tools, and the next phase would b how we can have a combination of tools so that the ergonomic risks for workers can be minimized.”

In conclusion, Beltran Martinez and Rouhani's research underscores the importance of implementing micro-breaks in the workplace to safeguard worker health without compromising productivity. As industries continue to evolve, adopting such simple yet effective interventions can pave the way for a healthier and more sustainable workforce.