Work-related back injuries are all too common and unfortunately can even be a cause of permanent disability and loss of employment. This is a major concern for employers and employees as the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that back disorders are “one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years”. Before you suffer a back injury, there are steps that you can take to maintain a healthy back even while performing your demanding on-the-job duties. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with a lower back disorder such as a herniated, bulging or protruding disc, can physical therapy give you hope of a life without back pain? Here’s more about how to prevent lower back injury and its causes:

Causes of Low Back Pain at Work

Some of the factors of back pain and injury are related to workplace duties but most are modifiable meaning less chance of injury. For example, OSHA explains that some of these factors are associated with back disorders.

Heavy-Duty Job

  • Reaching while lifting or lifting very heavy loads
  • Twisting or bending while lifting
  • Poor body mechanics
  • Repetitive lifting of awkwardly sized objects

Light-Duty or Seated Job

  • Poor sitting posture
  • Maintaining one position for too long
  • Poor physical conditioning
  • Poorly designed work station
  • Maintaining bent or stooped posture
  • Vibration from heavy machinery

 

How to Prevent Prevent Lower Back Injury in the Workplace

Without taking drastic measures and finding alternative employment you may wonder, how can I prevent back pain at work? Thankfully, there is much that you can do to modify your work environment and habits to decrease the strain being placed on your lower back. The National Safety Council recommends firstly to improve your physical fitness. If you exercise regularly, strengthen your core muscles and maintain a healthy weight, you are setting yourself up for a much healthier back. But even if you are at your fittest, you must recognize your physical limitations and even mild stress if repeated many times a day can add up over the long term.

The following lifting tips were provided by the NSC to avoid injury while picking up and moving heavy items.

  • Assess load before attempting to move it and do not attempt alone if it is too heavy for one person.
  • Work as close as possible to the load and avoid overreaching or stretching even using step ladders or scaffolding as needed.
  • Make sure you have a solid footing and keep your back straight without slouching.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and lift with your knees, not your back.
  • Turn your body with your feet, not by twisting at the back or waist.

By all means, use the lift equipment available at your place of employment. Although it may take more time, in the long run, to set it up and perform the task, you might save yourself the pain of a back injury.

How to Protect Your Back in a Light-Duty Work Environment

 

Office Ergonomics

Arranging your workstation in a way that is custom fit for you individually will decrease the strain placed on your lower back. The Mayo Clinic advises that proper office ergonomics include “correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing, and good desk posture”. Choose a chair that offers lumbar or lower back support and then adjust the height of your chair so that feet are resting firmly on the ground and thighs are parallel to the floor below. Also, adjust the armrest of your office chair so that shoulders are relaxed in a natural position. Arrange your work equipment so that it is at a comfortable reach and not requiring you to stretch. If you’re using a keyboard or mouse for long periods of time, keep your wrists straight and upper arms pulled in close to the body.

Taking a Break

Aim to change your position frequently. At least once an hour if not every 15 minutes, stand up out of your desk chair and gently stretch. If possible, take a walk around the office so that your back does not get stiff from prolonged periods in one position.

 

How Can Physical Therapy Help

A trained physical therapist will be able to help you strengthen your back through core stabilization exercises and improving flexibility. By teaching you proper body mechanics and postural awareness, your therapist will help you to both recover from lower back pain and prevent future injury. To find out more about how physical therapy can help you with your lower back pain, call Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab at (570) 208-2787 or email cawleyptfrank@gmail.com