Preventing Back Injuries at Work, Part 1

Avoiding back pain

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles outlining the best practices for preventing back injuries in the workplace. The second article will be published later this week.

Injuries to the back are one of the most common in the workplace, accounting for thousands of hours of lost productivity, workmen’s compensation claims, and untold pain and suffering. Yet back injuries are also one of the most preventable as long as workers are trained to follow a few simple procedures and practices.

The spine and muscles in the back play a role in nearly every movement people perform every day. The downside to this is that once a back injury occurs, it can cause pain every time we lift, push, stretch or use practically any muscle in the body.

And because the back is not very resilient to injury, once it gets hurt, rehabilitation time can be long and painful. And the back will still never be as strong as it was before the injury.

That’s why prevention is the best medicine for protecting the back from injury.

Poor Posture vs Force Injury

There are two primary ways back injuries can occur: Through weakening from excessive sitting or poor posture, or through a strain or tearing injury caused by force.

Many workers spend a majority of their time sitting. The natural position of the back is an “S” curve, also known as the neutral position. Good, healthy posture requires one to maintain as straight a line as possible from the mid-line of the ears to the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.

Standing tall, pulling in the stomach while sitting and standing, and tightening the buttocks can all improve posture and prevent injuries associated with excessive sitting. The neutral position should be maintained while sitting, standing, sleeping, and even while reaching and pushing.

Ways to Improve Posture

If you are having trouble maintaining the neutral position while sitting, here are some steps you can take to improve:

  • Raise your chair to its maximum height.
  • Move and stand up frequently
  • Increase the number of breaks you take
  • Use adjustable work surfaces whenever possible

Sleeping is another time when many people experience back pain. During the normal 6 to 8 hour daily sleep cycle, poor posture can also cause back injury.

Avoiding Back Pain from Sleeping

It’s possible to prevent or minimize back pain during sleep if you use a firm mattress, avoid sleeping on your stomach, and/or place a pillow under your knees while sleeping on your back. Another way is to sleep on your side, with a pillow placed between your knees and keeping your knees bent.

Your lifestyle can also contribute to the health of your back. People who live a sedentary lifestyle and are overweight are often more prone to back injuries or long-term back problems.

Making small changes over time to diet and exercise can have a profound positive effect on the strength of your back and the ability to avoid debilitating injury. Something as simple as walking around the block every day can lead to stronger stomach muscles, weight loss, increased flexibility and other contributors to optimal back health.


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