Whether you sit down, stand up, or do both at work, you are bound to have some experience with back pain. Even if your job does not include heavy lifting or other manual labor, the stress of your job could also lead to back pain.
Your back pain could be stabbing, dull and nagging, or somewhere in between. No matter what degree of pain you have, it could get in the way of your productivity. Fortunately, there are several ways to stop work-related back pain without having to quit your job or look for something new.
Why do our backs hurt at work?
In 2016, the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics published a study that looked at data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. Researchers found that during three months of self-reporting in 2010, 25.7% of workers experienced low back pain. Psychological and physiological causes contributed to back pain. The stress-related psychological causes include:
- Work-family imbalance
- Hostile workplace
- Job insecurity
- Bullying at work
Who has the most pain?
Women reported more low back pain from work, especially if they work 40-45 hours. Young people who worked more than 60 hours per week also complained of back pain more frequently than other workers. Workers in these industries complained of the most back pain:
- Healthcare practitioners
- Healthcare support workers
- Female farming, fishing, and forestry workers
- Community and social service workers
- Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media
- Legal occupations
What is the significance of an imbalance?
The idea that work-family imbalance can contribute to low back pain in workers is due to the unhealthy behaviors that workers choose to do. When there is an imbalance in work-family life, workers sometimes choose behaviors like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes instead of enjoying leisure time in healthy ways. Add to that the mental strain that a work-family imbalance brings, and it is not surprising how many people suffer from low back pain.
What should employers do?
The same study suggests that workplaces and healthcare providers need to provide support and intervention programs to reduce and prevent low back pain. Employers should understand the factors in the workplace that can lead to back pain. When back pain becomes prevalent in the workplace, productivity decreases, so it is important that employers take a vested interest in preventing back pain. The ideal recommendation in the study is that policymakers should develop “population-based public health strategies for prevention, treatment, management, and research of low back pain.”
Pay attention to your posture.
In reality, workers should pay close attention to their own back pain. If you are one of the many who suffers from back pain, it is important to pay close attention to your body. A study published in the BioMed Musculoskeletal Disorders found that basic awareness of posture is associated with pain intensity. When people are aware of their posture, they tend to decrease the intensity of their pain when they make subtle changes.
If your job requires you to stand, pay close attention to the way you distribute your weight on your feet. It can be helpful to engage your core muscles throughout the day so that you take some pressure off of your low back.
If you have to sit at work, choose a chair that is supportive of your low back. Chairs with lumbar support can be especially helpful. Do not sit in a chair that is too high. Your feet should be on the floor or on a footrest. Be sure your back pockets are empty, so your rear is balanced evenly. Most importantly, take time to get up throughout the day. You should also do occasional stretches, like a seated cat-cow stretch.
Pay attention to the way you lift heavy objects.
If you must lift heavy objects at work, it is important that you do it properly. You might be tempted to lift from a bent posture, using your back as a fulcrum. This will put unnecessary pressure on your low back. Instead, use your legs and your core muscles. Squat down to pick up the object, then lift from that position. You should hold the item as close to your body as possible. It is important to not twist while you are lifting a heavy object. If needed, find a colleague to help you.
Pay attention to your repetitive tasks.
Your back could also hurt due to repetitive tasks. If your job requires you to sit at a computer, it is important that you have all of the peripherals at an appropriate height. And, if you have to work with a telephone while sitting at a computer, use a headset so you do not have your neck at an awkward angle throughout the day.
If your job involves physically demanding labor, then you should find ways to mix it up with less demanding labor. If you have to lift, reach, bend, and twist, be sure that you only do those motions when absolutely necessary. They are all activities that can lead to back pain if done improperly or too frequently.
Traveling can cause back pain.
Believe it or not, travelers also can develop back pain. Their pain tends to originate from unwieldy luggage. To prevent back pain while traveling, use a rolling suitcase so you do not have to carry one. It is also a good idea to avoid carrying any type of heavy bag, even if it has a crossbody strap. Women often complain about pain from their purses, so if you are traveling, consider an alternative type of bag.
Employees experience various stress-related events at work every day, one of which is back pain. If you have psychological problems that are contributing to your back pain, it can be helpful to speak to your healthcare provider. There are healthcare professionals who can help you better manage your work-family life. Psychologists and therapists can also help you work through problems related to job insecurity and bullying. These helpful tips can help you begin to move your stress from pain to pain-free.
Dr. Brent Wells, Better Health Chiropractic
Serving Wasilla, Anchorage, and the surrounding communities, Dr. Brent Wells offers patient-centered, personalized, and innovative chiropractic care. A California native, Dr. Wells earned a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Nevada. He then attended Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. In 1998, he and his wife Coni moved to Alaska and opened Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab. Currently, he also works at AssignmentBro as an editor and writer.