How to prevent back pain and injury

Back pain and injuries are common in the workplace and can become chronic problems. Here are some ways to prevent them.

Back pain and injuries are common in the workplace and can become chronic problems. Here are some ways to prevent them.

Almost every laborer, skilled or unskilled, in every trade has experienced back pain, discomfort, and injury. For some, the pain recedes after a few days' rest. But for others, the pain becomes chronic – leaving them with a host of long-term problems detrimental to both the worker and the employer. 

As with many injuries, a little prevention of common sources of injury goes a long way toward easing the impact these ailments can have on the workplace. 

Back injury causes and statistics
Back pain and injuries consistently rank among the top ten reasons for workers' medical visits. A recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the most common cause of injury in the workplace fell under the category of "sprains, strains, and tears." Of the 443,560 reported cases of this type of injury in 2012, 36 percent of them were back-related. More than half were caused by some form of overexertion. 

While back injuries can happen and are in fact common in everything from difficult manual labor to desk-bound office jobs, laborers, material movers, and maintenance workers experienced the highest incidence of back-related injuries. It is difficult, sometimes, to pinpoint an exact cause of an ailment of this type, but it is highly likely that overtaxing the body by lifting too much weight, or lifting a weighty object with bad technique is a primary cause.

Preventing back injuries
Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) at the University of Virginia found that there are five common causes of back injuries in the workplace:

1. Poor posture
2. Poor physical condition
3. Incorrect body mechanics
4. Bad lifting technique
5. High intensity jobs

All of these problems can be addressed with proper training and workers keeping a few tips in mind as they go about their work day. Here are some ways back injuries can be prevented.

  • Improve your posture. Make sure that your head is balanced over your shoulders and not protruding forward. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your feet on the floor. For standing work, the EHS recommends keeping one foot up on a raised, flat surface such as a stool or a stable box to reduce the strain on your back. 
  • Listen to your body. If you are feeling discomfort or pain, change your stance. Your body will tell you when something isn't working.
  • Lift with proper technique. Lift with your knees, not with your back – even if you think you can. Even lifting light weights can cause injury. Don't be afraid to ask for help with moving something.
  • Take breaks. Rest often and stretch whenever you can. This will take the strain off your muscles and keep them flexible, reducing your chance of injury.