Protect Your Back on the Job
Learn how to keep your back safe while getting the job done.
Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Low-back pain is one of the most common causes for missed work and job-related disability, and each year Americans spend millions of dollars dealing with it. With stressed-out employees being asked to take on even more hours and responsibilities, back pain has become a bigger problem than ever in the workplace.
According to the Mayo Clinic, four factors are most closely associated with the risk of back pain and injury at work:
- Lifting and moving heavy objects (jobs involving frequent lifting, bending and twisting are highest risk for back pain)
- Repetitive movements, especially involving stretching to the limit of your range of motion, or to awkward positions
- Poor posture (sitting or standing). Prolonged sitting or standing can be detrimental to your back
- Stress. Stress can increase muscle tension, leading to back pain
Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent back pain on the job.
For those who lift and move heavy objects – delivery people, nurses, or movers, for example – follow these rules from the American Council on Exercise when lifting:
- Get help lifting objects that are too heavy for one person to lift
- Create a supportive base by placing feet at least shoulders-width apart
- Stand as close to the object as possible
- Bend at the knees, not the waist
- Contract your abdominal muscles as you lift or lower the heavy object
- Hold the object close to your body
- Do not twist or bend forward as you lift or carry the object
Look at your workspace and see if you can reorganize your computer, phone or other objects to minimize twisting, bending and repetitive overstretching and reaching.
If your job involves hours of sitting, take a break and stand, move and/or stretch every 15-20 minutes. Sit in a chair that supports your back with an adjustable back rest, or add a lumbar support to your chair. Do not sit on your wallet or other uneven surfaces. Feet should rest flat on the floor. Do not lean to one side, and use a swivel chair (with adjustable seat and arms) to avoid constant twisting motions. Do not strain your head up or down to view your monitor; chin should be parallel to the floor.
For those who stand on the job, avoid excessive bending; placing a foot on a small footrest or stool throughout the day will give your back a break and help you maintain good posture. As with sitting, do not slouch or sway the back.
Come up with strategies for dealing with stress on the job or at home. Go for a short walk, take deep, slow breaths, talk to a friend, and think about how to change a pain-inducing situation.
Also important for back pain prevention and recovery. Being overweight adds extra stress to your back (as well as your knees and other body parts). Core work (abdominal and back strengthening and stretching exercises) are critical to back health and will improve posture and increase flexibility and overall functional fitness. Just a few simple back strengthening and stretching exercises a day can make a marked difference.
Listen to your body. If a task is aggravating your back, stop. A short break may do the trick, or you may need to reconfigure your workspace or rethink how you perform a task to eliminate or alleviate whatever is causing your pain.
Follow these guidelines and incorporate some simple back stretching and strengthening exercises into your workout regimen to prevent job-related back pain before it has a chance to happen. You will be healthier and happier and avoid missing work days due to back pain and injury.