With the summer drawing to a close and most of us back in the work routine, it’s a good time to focus on workplace related back pain – what causes it and steps you can take to avoid it.
WHAT CAUSES BACK INJURIES IN THE WORKPLACE?
Back injuries in the workplace can be caused by a number of factors, but there are three main categories:
Force. The most common cause of back injury in the workplace is force. This is any situation that applies a great deal of weight or strain to your back. A common example would be lifting or carrying a heavy object.
Repetition. Repetitive strain to the back, from lifting and carrying even light objects, to frequent twisting and bending, can cause chronic back pain and back injuries in the workplace.
Inactivity. Inactivity is another common cause of back injuries in the workplace, though it is often overlooked. Sitting for prolonged periods of time, especially with poor posture, can put a lot of strain on your back and cause chronic pain.
Advice for Avoiding Work Related Back Pain
ENSURE YOU ARE LIFTING PROPERLY
Before you lift anything, size up the load. Can you lift this yourself, should you ask a colleague for help, or can you use a mechanical lifting device?
Next, make sure your carrying path is clear, so you don’t have to navigate obstacles.
Directly face the object to be lifted.
Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, and make sure your weight is evenly distributed on both feet.
As you bend down to lift, bend with your legs — not your back.
Make sure the object is as close to you as possible.
Use your legs and tighten your core muscles to lift straight up, without twisting from side to side.
Keep the object close to your body while lifting and carrying.
Make sure to maintain the natural curve of your back — don’t twist or lean while you’re lifting or carrying an object.
MODIFY REPETITIVE TASKS
Whether you’re working in a call centre, on a production line or cutting hair, repetitive tasks can put a strain on your back. If you are regularly taking phone calls, opt for headphones or a headset to ensure you’re not cradling a phone between your neck and shoulder for long periods of time. Try to alternate between standing and sitting down and if you’re bending or leaning forwards, keep your back straight. If you stand a lot, keep the weight evenly spread across both feet and consider your footwear: supportive shoes with cushions in the soles are a good option, and steer clear of high heels.
THINK ABOUT YOUR POSTURE
Don’t slouch at your desk.
Make sure you’re sitting with both feet flat on the ground.
If you can, choose an ergonomic chair that supports your spine, and take time to adjust your chair so that you are sitting comfortably with both feet on the floor and knees at a 90° angle so your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Adjust your desk so you’re looking straight ahead, rather than craning your neck up or down.
If using a computer, make sure your monitor is at a distance and height where you can comfortably see the entire screen (or multiple monitors) without having to lean forward, backward, or twist uncomfortably.
If you drive a lot, adjust your seat height to see which position feels best when you’re driving and also when you’re getting in and out of your vehicle. Moving the seat closer to the steering wheel can help you avoid hunching over as well.
Move about. Long periods of inactivity are hard on your back. Try to get up from your desk at least once an hour to stretch, move around, and give your back a break.
STRETCH AND STRENGTHEN
Working to strengthen your core muscles can help take some of the strain off your back when you’re lifting and or performing repetitive actions at work.
Joint and muscle tightness is another key contributor to back pain. Stretching can help reduce back and joint pain by relieving tightness and imbalance. Click here to see our 5 favourite exercises and stretches to relieve back pain.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
Inactivity, not eating well, or feeling stressed all negatively impact your body and can contribute to back pain. The best way to prevent a back injury in the workplace is to do what you can to keep healthy. A healthy body is less likely to sustain an injury and can heal much faster in the event that you do injure yourself. Here are a few key healthy activities that can help:
Stay active. Exercise regularly and take breaks to stretch and walk around while at work.
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