Photo: Tulsa (OK) Police Cpl. Carl Goforth Utilizes A Standing Desk
Recently my department formed a collateral duty fitness unit. The mission of the unit is to enhance the overall wellness of the officers on our department. The first year we were in existence, we began by developing a path forward for the unit and providing a foundation for officers to build on for improving their health and physical wellness. That first year was a very informative one for me as an officer that works side-by-side with the men and women out in the field everyday.
I have spent a large part of my life in a gym and working out. My intention was always to make myself as strong and fast as possible to be as competitive as I could be. I gave little thought to how my body would handle the enormous strain I put it under. In athletics, I was young and strong but I was not invincible. Like many college athletes, the constant strain and movements took its toll on my body. Competent medical professionals quickly addressed those injuries in the athletic world and no expense was spared to return myself and others back to the field of competition.
When I became a police officer, I soon realized the stark contrast the non-athletic community lives in. Injuries in a police department are often seen as a “pre-exiting” issue. Officers, who are really tactical athletes, are treated with the lowest level of care possible to meet the agencies legal obligation and then return them to work. There is little to no follow-up care that is so critical to getting the officer-athlete back to the field and performing at a very high level. Officers are left to face the world again on their own, and often times at a physical level that is far below the level where they were hired on the department. We will probably never see agencies around the country view officers as tactical athletes and care for them the same way professional sports teams care for their athletes. Therefore, it has become necessary for officers to find the blueprint for caring for themselves.
With this issue in mind, the supervisor over our Fitness Unit assigned the unit to read “Deskbound: Stand Up to a Sitting World,” by Dr. Kelly Starrett. I have followed Dr. Starrett for several years at his MWOD website while I worked to undo years of poor mechanics and abuse from sports, the military and now law enforcement. Dr. Starrett helped me move pain free, sleep better and perform at a much higher level than I otherwise would have on my own. Even with all of the great progress I was making, there was still a piece of the puzzle missing. As I read the book, it was as if the missing pieces began to fall into place. My underlying faults were coming into focus and I was given a blueprint for how to fix the problems.
The premise of “Deskbound” is to help us understand why we move the way we do. It then gives the reader a simple and logical way to correct the problem. I was surprised to learn that for most humans without a genetic birth abnormality, our dysfunction begins as early as the first grade. We are born knowing how to move correctly. I have a young child and as I watched her move from birth, I saw exactly what he describes in the book. It is our system that builds in dysfunction. It starts with the shoes we wear, to the chairs we force children into at a very young age, and to the poor movement patterns that are developed as a result of these societal influences. “Deskbound” does an incredible job of identifying the causes of the positional faults and gives very common sense solutions for the average person.
I recently read an article here on Law Officer by Dr. Steve Mora that talks about his work with police officers and the challenges we face. His excellent article identifies the very issues that plague our profession. Most of the injuries we experience are “non-contact” injuries, meaning a vehicle did not hit us or we were not shot or beaten. Most injuries are positional faults or structural imbalances that were exposed by an event in our daily working environment. It is often an issue as simple as sitting in our car with the added weight of our equipment on an unsupported spine and a collapsed diaphragm. It continues when we climb in and out of our car without knowing how to properly engage our core and brace our spine for the movement.
How often have we heard that an officer has twisted a knee or ankle while stepping off a curb or chasing a suspect? Pretending injuries are not part of a career that demands we sometimes perform at an extremely high physical level would be as ridiculous as saying we can prevent all injuries in the NFL. The leaders of the NFL, MLB, NBA, Special Operations Units in the military, or any other professional sport understand that working to prevent unnecessary injury makes good business sense. When will we as a profession start to realize that our tactical officer-athletes are our the most important asset and care for them like a professional athlete?
This issue is one that is as complex and important as the very fabric of law enforcement in our country. It is only through partnering with medical professionals like Dr. Mora, and taking advantage of the resources provided to our community by professionals like Dr. Starrett, that we ever have a chance to protect and preserve our most precious resource, the police officer.
Corporal Jason Muse has been in law enforcement since 2004. He is a FTO, Trainer, a member of the Fitness Unit and a SWAT Operator. He also the the host of Law Officer’s “SWAT Nation.”
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