Cart Pushing: How to prevent muscle aches
Originally Published: September 3, 2010 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 24, 2014
I am 21 years old and have a job pushing carts. They each weigh about 15 pounds and I usually have about an eight hour shift (I recently got a pedometer and it says I average ten miles a day walking, during a normal shift). We have a cart machine but I still have to push about ten of these carts at a time (or more). I do a lot of twisting and turning, and since I only weigh about 110 pounds myself, I usually have to put my whole body into moving these carts.
I've read a few of your answers to athletes on how to prevent muscle soreness and you mentioned a 48 hour break for muscle groups. Since I can’t do that (its my job, I have to be there at least 30 hours a week), and since I can't really change the muscle groups I use, what is a good way (besides stretching every 20 minutes to an hour) to prevent damage to my knees/hips and to make muscle pain less or get rid of it altogether? I've been doing the job for about six months and have just recently been having trouble with pain because of snow making it harder to push.
Thank you for your time,
The Cart Pushing Professional
Dear Cart Pushing Professional,
Work life may get tough, but when push comes to shove, don't put your back into it! Your attention to your body is an excellent first step in pain prevention. While there are some things you may do to reduce your pain, it's important to know that your employer is also expected to provide a safe working environment for you, free of conditions that cause injury.
Remember when pushing the cart(s) or other heavier items, try to bend from your hips rather than your waist. You'll know you're doing this right if your back is straight and you feel yourself using your legs. If you have a "hump" when you bend or if you find yourself hunching as you bend and twist, it means you're probably putting more stress on your back. Try to move from your lower core, putting your weight on your glutes (butt muscles). Flexing your stomach muscles while cart-pushing may add more support from your core, as well, hopefully helping to take pressure off your knees. Another option may be to see if your employer may provide you with some type of support belt that may help distribute the pressure more evenly and support your lower back. Staying well hydrated throughout your shift may also help prevent soreness, and healthy snacks and meals may help you sustain your energy level.
Stretching is certainly a good way to help with soreness, as is the occasional massage. Unless you know someone, professional massages may be costly. If funds for an occasional massage aren't in your budget, consider trading massages with a friend or locating a massage school where you may be able to get discounts with massage therapists in training.
You also mentioned that the snow makes pushing carts more difficult. One thing that may help is a device consisting of rubber straps that you may stretch over the soles of your shoes. Lining these rubber straps are small, metal rings that dig into ice and snow, creating friction and reducing or eliminating slippage. Runners and hikers often use them to stay active in the winter months and they may be found at many outdoor and sporting goods stores at a low price. Make sure to use the kind that has studs on the entire sole, rather than ones only of the ball or heel. You may consider asking your employer to cover the cost or give you a discount if they're sold in your store.
Speaking of which, you employer has the responsibility to provide a safe working environment for you — they are required by Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Any employee of a private company may make an anonymous complaint and request an investigation. Even if your employer were to somehow find out it were you, they're legally prohibited from firing you, refusing to promote or give you a raise, or otherwise punish you from making the complaint. For more information, check out the OSHA website or call 1-800-321 OSHA.
Lastly, seeing a health care provider may help rule out serious injuries as the cause of your soreness and may be able to provide you with more information for pain relief and injury prevention. If you're a student, you may be covered by your school's health care plan. Columbia students can make an appointment by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).
Working hard is important, and ensuring that you stay healthy to continue working in the long run may be even more important. Try some of the precautions, exercise self care, and flex your employee rights — work doesn't have to be back breaking!