Terminate Job Site Back Pain

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10 tips for manage back pain from manual labor

Stephanie Camillo
Washington, D.C.

Back pain in manual labor jobs is mostly due to over-stressing the muscles through lifting or twisting.  As a construction worker, postal worker, gardener, or stock clerk, you place an extraordinary amount of stress on your back, mostly through heavy lifting.  As opposed to back pain caused by static movements like sitting in a chair for extended periods, manual laborers face a different set of challenges that put their backs at risk for strains, sprains, and herniated discs.  To help prevent injury and reduce back pain, try to adopt some of the suggestions below.  They’re a great way to keep pain down and manage overall health and fitness.

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Shoes Make the Man (or Woman).

Not only do your shoes need to be supportive but, depending on the work environment, they may also need to have certain characteristics like steels toes.  After support on the outside comes support on the inside—get insoles to sure the bottom of your foot has the cushioning it needs.  Additionally, shoes with ankle support will help reduce the risk of falling or twisting your ankle on the job site.

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Stretch like Gumby.

Because manual labor workers are particularly susceptible to muscle strains its important to keep muscles loose, relaxed, and active.  This means stretching often, even during the workday.  If your muscles get cold and tighten up between major efforts they’re more likely to get injured.  For more advice as to how to stretch and work out any stiffness read Help for a Stiff Back.  If you can’t do the full positions at work, you can modify the poses for your environment.

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Make More Trips.

It’s human nature to want to do everything in one trip.  We would rather carry twenty grocery bags into the house from the car than make multiple trips.  But if your job requires a lot of moving of objects, more trips can do you a great service.  First of all, you keep the weight of each load down, which your back will thank you for.  Second of all, you incorporate more walking into your routine, which will help keep your muscles loose and relaxed.

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Fine Tune Your Technique.

In most manual labor jobs you can’t avoid lifting—but you can do it properly. Use your leg and arm muscles to lift heavy objects and bend from your hips and knees, not your back. Also, keep your back straight—it will help protect your spine and reduce the risk of injury.  Don’t stop there.  Make sure you are employing proper techniques for pulling, pushing, and other repetitive movements you do on the job.

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Eat Right.

Eating right won’t just help keep weight off (an added stressor to your back) but it can help give your muscles the nutrients they need to do your job.  Proper nutrition will also keep your weight down—and less weight means less stress on your joints and spine.  Eating right for the job site is much like being an elite athlete.  For tips as to how to eat for power and recovery read this article by nutritionist Allegra Burton.

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Brace Yourself.

For those whose jobs require heavy lifting, a back brace can be helpful. You don’t want to depend on it to do your work for you, but it can help provide lumbar support when lifting heavy or bulky objects. If you’re susceptible to back injuries, then you will definitely want to add a brace to your ‘uniform.’  You can go to a sporting goods store or, for a better fit, get a brace custom-fitted to you by a specialist.  Contact your physician’s office for referrals.

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Exercise Elsewhere.

You might think you burn plenty of calories in your day job, but the truth is that other forms of exercises are important to keeping your weight down and avoiding muscle imbalances that can contribute to back pain.  That doesn’t mean you need to go to a gym or run a marathon.  Working different muscles through a pick up basketball game or weekly jog will help, just make sure that you are using proper technique.

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Take Care of Sore Muscles.

Most manual laborers will experience some form of back pain at one point or another.  So when you do, it’s important to take care of the pain so as to reduce further risk of injury.  If you have a strain you can ice your injury and take anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and promote healing.  If you suffer from general achiness then massage, heat or Epsom salt baths will help relieve some of the tension in your muscles.

mike el madrile/flickr.com

mike el madrile/flickr.com

Work on Your Core.

To promote back strength its crucial to have a strong core. Strong abdominals protect your spine and are an important component of proper posture and technique as you perform that heavy lifting. Spending some time on your abs could save your back a lot of hassle.  For more about core training fundamentals check out this article by Moji fitness expert Sean Lee.  Want some relaxation with your core workout?  Read about yoga techniques for strengthening core.

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Don’t Stress Out.

This is true for maintaining so many aspects of our health-not just for managing back pain.  If you’re stressed you’re less likely to maintain proper technique when performing your job or you could get careless with those heavy loads or awkward pieces of machinery.  Keep a sharp mental attitude and stay focused—it will reduce your risk of injury.  For was to reduce stress trough relaxation read Stressed for Success?.

Machines have taken over a lot of the tough work our society requires-but we still need a veritable army of manual laborers to make our society function.  And those that do have those jobs place tremendous demands on their bodies.  While there’s no way to avoid back pain 100% of the time, there are a lot of little things we can do to reduce the risk of back pain and back injury—and a little goes a long way.

Jill Lohmann is a Director of Operations for Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers and a certified physical therapist. Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers is a physical therapist owned and operated rehabilitation company with a network of 170 outpatient rehabilitation centers located throughout the Midwest, Arizona and Georgia.

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