ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Erik Nieuwenhuis, MS, PT

Transforming Your Musculoskeletal Well-Being by Optimizing Your Body's Vital Mobility™!

Hello, my name is Erik Nieuwenhuis and I am a physical therapist who specializes in leading and empowering workplaces in transforming the musculoskeletal well-being of their employees by using ergonomic principles, WorkSmart posture habits and body mechanics, dynamic stretching to reduce stiffness and pain, functional strength training, improving daily lifestyle habits and musculoskeletal self-care techniques since 1998.

I work at UnityPoint Health- St. Luke’s in Sioux City, Iowa that has 1,350 employees where I have led the Industrial Athlete WorkSmart Ergonomics injury prevention program since 2001, and am part of a transformational team on the cutting edge of well-being transformation. Over that time period we have seen a reduction in OSHA recordable musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) for those workers involved in patient care by 85%. We have led 17 affiliate hospitals as part of UnityPoint Health (formally Iowa Health System) which now covers the states of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, in MSD injury prevention. Our results orientated worksite well-being program achieved Gold Well Workplace recognition in August of 2013, and received the Blue Zones worksite designation in July of 2013, where we work to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

What I am best known for is the Dynamic Stretching Program that I created in 2001, and recently updated 5th edition in July of 2013. I have a newly created LLC, called 3D Lifestyle Athlete™, where companies and employees may download an HD video and purchase a DVD of the dynamic stretching program directly from my website at “To Optimize your Body’s Vital Mobility™. Then set up a daily dynamic stretching program based on the job they perform, or body parts that have stiffness and/ or pain. This dynamic stretching program along with ergonomic principles, healthy lifestyle habits, and MSD injury prevention services will allow companies, organizations, and employees to prevent and reverse MSDs by 30-90% in 1-3 years, reduce stiffness and pain of employees, improve energy level and productivity, reduce stress and muscle tension, and improve their well-being at work, home, at play and allow proper daily rest and recovery while sleeping too. I’ve been a Wellness consultant to industry since 2000, working with over 300+ companies from the Sioux City and Tri-State area (Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota), across the United States, and abroad.

Erik Nieuwenhuis, MS, PT

Check out the Dynamic Stretching Program promo HD video by 3D Lifestyle Athlete

Professional Development:

A motor vehicle accident, lifestyle challenges managing juvenile diabetes, and passion to help others led me to the field of physical therapy. I graduated with a Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree from Des Moines University, May of 1998.  Primary certifications are completing 60 hours of study on “The Work Injury Practice”, and “Return to Work Consulting” from 2000-2002 by Lauren Hebert of Smartcarept and 174+ hours in Applied Functional Science from the Gray Institute from 1999-2009.  [KZ1] I will complete my Certification of Applied Functional Science (CAFS) in 2015.  I was awarded WELCOA faculty status in November 2011. 

Demonstrated Success:  

The most successful intervention was leading the Industrial Athlete IMPACC (Injury Management Prevention and Cost Containment) WorkSmart Ergonomics Injury Prevention Program since 2001 at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s.  St. Luke’s has seen an 85% reduction in OSHA recordable Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) to the lower back and shoulders for workers involved in patient care from 2001 to 2013.(3,7)  This was made possible by all parties from senior leadership to every employee taking ownership and accountability to transform the MSD injury prevention efforts. (1, 2, 6)  From senior leadership giving the resources to upgrade to an electronic medical record and make sit to stand adjustable workstations available in all patient care areas, purchasing Safe Patient Handling Equipment (SPHE) through an employee grant process and improved daily body mechanics.(5)  Industrial Athlete WorkSmart Ergonomics Training for Management and Employee’s was critical to our success, as was performing dynamic stretching based on data collected for each worker and work area needs assessment.(5)  I was appointed the leader of the SPHE program and training of employee’s in 2006.(5)   

This past year we had days away from work and/or restricted duty (DART) rate of 1.3 which is outstanding for those in the healthcare field which has the highest incidence rate for MSD injuries more than any other industry.(3,7)

The intervention that worked best was our systematic approach of getting leadership and management buy-in and support (1, 2) on St. Luke’s mission to be pro-active and to “prepare and prevent” MSDs vs “the repair and repent” of previous programs.  The continuous process improvement of transforming the work environment and by greatly reducing or abolishing the MSD risk factors of patient care jobs, computer workstations and material handling jobs by getting all employees, supervisors, and administration to understand their specific roles in the MSD injury prevention program.(6)

We used our OSHA log and variance log history to see where hot spots were with MSDs to target first.  We evaluated all of the departments performing an ergonomic profile getting a sample of employee’s input into the process improvement and performed an ergonomic work risk analysis for MSD risks factors, awkward posture habits and forces, long working hours of shift-work, tools and equipment used, and lifestyle habits of employees.(3)  We set up management and employee training based on findings from the data collection.(2-6)  We began to lead ergonomic principles, dynamic stretching and WorkSmart posture habits training and thus greatly reducing MSD injury risk factors.  This industrial athlete education takes place at employee orientation, yearly department meetings, nursing skills days, in newsletters, and each year in our mandatory net learning.(5, 6)

Appendix:  Welcoa’s 7 Benchmarks:  1. Capturing CEO Support 2. Creating Cohesive Wellness Team 3. Collecting Data to Drive Health Efforts 4. Carefully Crafting An Operating Plan  5. Choosing Appropriate Interventions 6. Creating A Supportive Environment 7. Carefully Evaluating Outcomes


I believe it is vital to lead by example as a Physical Therapist, especially with juvenile diabetes. Some of my lifestyle habits include; healthy eating, physical activity, dynamic stretching, strength and circuit training, adequate sleep, sit to stand workstation, growing family garden and performing daily prayer and reflection.  As a Christian, I think of my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and it is my passion and mission to lead workers and companies to optimize their body’s vital mobility™.  

Leadership experience working with 300+ companies to reduce OSHA recordable MSD injuries, claims, and costs by 30-90% in 1-3 years. I also lead a wellness ministry at Sunnybrook Community Church since 2005.

To become the best leader in health promotion or injury prevention, I recommend you first learn self- control and improve your own health and vitality.  You’ll need resilience.  You must find great mentors and learn from them and continually seek wisdom.  Become an active Welcoa member.


  1. I developed the WorkSmart Dynamic Stretching Plan in 2001.  This has helped transform St. Luke’s and 300+ companies to see 30-90% reduction of OSHA recordable musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) injuries. 
  2. I began treating St. Luke’s employee’s after MSD injuries in 2009, which has greatly improved return to work by around 80%.
  3. Created 3D Lifestyle Athlete™, LLC and have created an HD video of the Dynamic Stretching Program to reduce MSD injuries.  There are recommended dynamic stretching programs based on the type of job you perform daily, and based on your body’s stiffness and pain to improve your well-being and optimize your body’s vital mobility™.
  4. WorkSmart Preventive Coaching at Sara Lee, coaching workers onsite. Sara Lee (now Bimbo Foods) South Sioux City plant went from near last place to first place in safety and lean ergonomics and won lean plant of the year for 2 years.

Compelling Vision:

Opportunities for Health Promotion next 5 years;

  1. 87% of workforce is overweight or obese with recurring physical pain. 
  2. 33% percent of workforce is affected by Sitting Disease (physical inactivity).  
  3. The number one cause of disability worldwide is osteoarthritis (OA)! 
  4. Affordable Care Act support of worksite wellness, and work injury prevention. 
  5. Well-Being Index 2013 noted only 63.7% following healthy lifestyle habits.

3D Lifestyle Athlete™ - Optimizing Your Body’s Vital Mobility™

  1. Dynamic stretching to reduce stiffness and pain, improve energy level, reduce stress, and improve well-being. 
  2. Musculoskeletal self-care techniques like the snakebite technique, and ice massage to reverse and treat tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. 
  3. Improved posture and body mechanics using the staggered stance “athletic ready” posture to protect back and shoulders when lifting.
  4. Ergonomic principles of sit to stand desks.
  5. Encourage healthy lifestyle habits to become resilient and soar like eagles through the storms of life!

Check out the website at

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Erik Nieuwenhuis, MS, PT Benefits of WorkSmart Stretching Ergo Program Recommendations Flexibility and Dynamic Stretching Program Benefits Industrial Athlete Musculoskeletal Disorder Outcomes Quote- The Doctor of the Future; Welcoa Gold Well Workplace Award August 13’ and Blue Zones Worksite designation with Employee Health and Wellness Team July 13’. WELCOA Move It Or Lose It Expert Interview Reach for The Sky Stretch from Dynamic Stretching Program
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Erik N.
My name is Erik Nieuwenhuis, I work at UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's in Sioux City, IA as a physical therapist who specializes in leading and empowering workplaces in transforming the musculoskeletal well-being of their employees by using ergonomic principles, WorkSmart posture habits and body mechanics such as the Staggered Stance to protect back and shoulders lifting, dynamic stretching to reduce stiffness and pain, functional strength training to reverse sitting disease, improving daily lifestyle habits and musculoskeletal self-care techniques of the snakebite technique and ice massage to reverse and treat tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. View Erik N.'s Profile.
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Erik is a great asset to Unity Point Health. His focus on the work "athlete" is amazing. He is a great motivator and always willing to help out. He is one of the most enthusiastic people I know.

Jeffrey O. on 11/14/2014

Erik has been a great asset to the Blue Zones Project here in Sioux City. His drive and energy to help people improve their health and well-being is infectious. Erik has such a willingness to volunteer at different events and help professionals in all areas optimize their environment in order to perform at their highest potential.

Sarah D. on 11/13/2014

Exciting to see the emphasis on posture and ergonomics. It has given me ideas of how our safety committee and employee wellness committees could work together.

Daniel C. on 11/10/2014

Erik has been willing to present a 3-hour ergonomics presentation for our physical therapy students at the University of South Dakota for the past 4 years. He does a tremendous job and is very enthusiastic about what he is doing.

Richard E. on 11/07/2014

Erik demonstrates a real passion for his work. He is always willing to help staff and community members find ways to work safely, reduce injuries and promote health. He does a great job and radiates excitment and energy for his work ! Anne

Anne P. on 11/07/2014

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