Avoiding lower Back Pain at Work
By Matt Ho APAM
One common source of both acute and chronic back pain is the workplace. This encapsulates both manual and sedentary occupations despite the physical requirements being quite different.
Here are some recommendations to ensure you don’t injure your lower back at work:
Both manual and sedentary jobs will require some lifting. Technique is essential to maintaining spinal health, and this should include:
-Maintaining a neutral lumbar spine
-holding item as close as possible to the body
-Reducing bulk of item if possible
-Utilising leg muscles as main drivers
-Team lifting where necessary: Properly assess the load initially!
-Managing not only the load itself, but the total volume of lifts
The lower back pain associated with poor posture is two fold: Firstly, placing excessive biomechanical forces on particular areas; and secondly, relative inactivity for long periods of time (think: long periods at the desk). This can be managed using a few key principles:
-Regularly changing position: This may mean getting up from your desk, or alternatively sitting down, every 20 minutes
-Creating an activity routine: This includes regular walks and exercises for the upper and lower body
-Create change: Look to foster a more active workplace. Walking meetings, lunchtime activities and relationships with local gyms could help to improve the general health and activity levels of your workplace
Setting up your workplace to avoid excessive biomechanical stress to the lower back is also important. Some strategies could include:
-Adjusting your workstation appropriately. Review desk, chair and monitor height, as well as your mouse and keyboard type.
-Explore options for helping you lift (e.g. trolleys and jacks in a manual role)
-Personal devices such as braces may help to provide feedback to the body when lifting
Reducing stress as work can have a profound impact on the level of pain perceived in the lower back. It has been found that psychological stress can negatively affect pain perception and healing times. Employees can try to effectively manage stress at work by:
-Tracking stressors: Work out which situations cause increased stress, and attempt to manage these
-Attempt to develop healthy responses to stress (eg. exercises)
-Talk to the manager and establish boundaries
-Take time during the day to recharge
-Attain appropriate psychological support where necessary
Putting it All Together
Make sure you are aware of all the situations that may put your back at risk, and put in place steps to reduce this risk. This will ensure your back stays healthy for years to come!