Whether it’s dull and annoying or screaming for attention, back pain can make it hard to concentrate on your job.
Many occupations — such as nursing, construction or factory work — place significant demands on your back. Even routine office work can worsen back pain if you fall into risky habits.
But you can avoid back pain and injuries by paying attention to what causes them and focusing on prevention.
What causes back injuries?
Doctors and scientists aren’t sure about all of the causes of back injury. In fact, most back problems are probably the result of a combination of factors. Some factors, such as family history, aren’t preventable. Other factors, such as weight, fitness and flexibility, can be controlled by changing your lifestyle. Still other factors are work related, and you may or may not be able to modify these to prevent injury.
Four work-related factors are associated with increased risk of back injury:
- Force. Exerting too much force on your back may cause injury. If your job is physical in nature, you might face injury if you frequently lift or move heavy objects.
- Repetition. Repetition refers to the number of times you perform a certain movement. Overly repetitious tasks can lead to muscle fatigue or injury, particularly if they involve stretching to the end of your range of motion or awkward body positioning.
- Posture. Posture refers to your position when sitting, standing or performing a task. If, for instance, you spend most of your time in front of a computer, you may experience occasional aches and pains from sitting still for extended periods of time. On average, your body can tolerate being in one position for about 20 minutes before you feel the need to adjust.
- Stress. Pressures at work or at home not only ratchet up your stress level but can lead to muscle tension and tightness, which may in turn lead to back pain.
How to avoid injuries
Your best bet in preventing back injury is to be as fit as you can be and take steps to make your work and your working environment as safe as possible.
Even if you move around a lot on your job or your job requires physical exertion, you still need to exercise. Regular exercise is your best bet in maintaining a healthy back. First of all, you’ll keep your weight in check, and carrying around a healthy weight for your body’s frame minimizes stress on your back. You can do specific strengthening and stretching exercises that target your back muscles. Regular exercise will also increase your long-term flexibility. Strong and flexible muscles will keep your back in tip-top shape.
Focus on your core
To work your body’s core, engage your deepest abdominal muscle — your transversus abdominis — by coughing once. The muscle you feel contracting deep in your abdomen is your transversus abdominis.
The transversus abdominis isn’t the only muscle that makes up your body’s core. But by concentrating on keeping this muscle contracted throughout these exercises, the rest of your core muscles get a workout, too.
Once you’ve learned to contract your abdominal muscles, you can begin the following exercises. As you start out, do each exercise five times. As you get stronger, gradually increase to 10 to 15 repetitions.
This exercise works many of your core muscles in combination. Lie on your back with your knees bent (A). Keep your back in a neutral position — not overly arched and not pressed into the floor. Avoid tilting your hips up. Cough to activate your transversus abdominis.
Holding the contraction in your abdominal muscles, raise your hips off the floor (B). Align your hips with your knees and shoulders. Hold this position for as long as it takes to complete three deep breaths — about five to eight seconds. Return to your starting position and repeat. For a challenge, try alternately extending one knee while maintaining the bridge position.
With each of these exercises, coordinate your breathing with the activation of your transversus abdominis. If you don’t, you won’t benefit from these exercises
Pay attention to posture
Poor posture stresses your back. When you slouch or stand with a swayback, you exaggerate your back’s natural curves. Such posture can lead to muscle fatigue and injury. In contrast, good posture relaxes your muscles and requires minimal effort to balance your body.
- Standing posture. If you stand for long periods, rest one foot on a stool or small box from time to time. While you stand, hold reading material at eye level. Don’t bend forward to do desk work or handwork.
- Sitting posture. To promote comfort and good posture while sitting, choose a chair that supports your back. Adjust the chair so that your feet stay flat on the floor. If the chair doesn’t support your lower back’s curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back. Remove bulky objects, such as a wallet, from your back pockets when you sit because they disrupt balance in your lower back.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to lift and carry a load. Some key tips for lifting the right way include letting your legs do the work, keeping objects close to your body and recruiting help if a load is too heavy.
Adjust your workspace
Look at the setup of your office or work area. Think about how you could modify repetitive job tasks to reduce physical demands. Remember that you’re trying to decrease force and repetition and maintain healthy, safe postures. For instance, you might use lifting devices or adjustable equipment to help you heft loads. If you’re on the phone most of the day, try a headset. Avoid cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear to free up your hands for yet another task. If you work at a computer, make sure that your monitor and chair are positioned properly.
Adopt healthy work habits
Pay attention to your surroundings and recognize your body’s abilities on the job. Take these steps to prevent back pain:
- Plan your moves. Reorganize your work to eliminate high-risk, repetitive movements. Avoid unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching. Limit the time you spend carrying heavy briefcases, purses and bags. If you’re carrying something heavy, know exactly where you intend to set it and whether that space is free from clutter.
- Listen to your body. If you must sit or stand for a prolonged period, change your position often. Take a 30-second timeout every 15 minutes or so to stretch, move or relax. Try standing up when you answer the phone, to stretch and change positions. If your back hurts, stop activities that aggravate it.
- Minimize hazards. Falls can seriously injure your back. Think twice before donning those high heels. Low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles are a better bet. Remove anything from your workspace that might cause you to trip.
- Work on coordination and balance. Simple enough, walking regularly for exercise can help you maintain your coordination and balance. You can also perform balance exercises to keep you steady on your feet.
Being under stress causes you to tense your muscles, and this can make you more prone to injury. In addition, the more stress you feel, the lower your tolerance for pain. Try to minimize your sources of stress both on the job and at home. Develop coping mechanisms for times when you feel especially stressed. For instance, perform deep-breathing exercises, take a walk around the block or talk about your frustrations with a trusted friend.
In the news article below it quotes Will Rowe, CEO of the American Pain Foundation as saying “In many instances, the injury heals and the pain persists. That’s the story that needs to be told.” While we agree it is good that this issue is being studied in more detail, we would like to take this a step further by helping doctors understand that the reason these people still have pain is because the injury has not “healed.” In fact it is the persistence of the undiagnosed condition of ligament injury that is frequently the cause of the chronic pain they discuss. To learn more about this “hidden injury” please go to www.injurydocumentation.com.
Pain lasts long after traumatic injury: study
The following are several small extracts from a March newspaper article by Will Dunham.
“In a study published in the journal Archives of Surgery, researchers tracked 3,047 patients ages 18 to 84 from 14 U.S. states who survived an acute traumatic injury. A year after the injury, 63 percent reported that they still experienced pain related to the injury, with most having pain in more than one region of the body.
“The implications are that we need to do a much better job of identifying pain in these patients, treating it adequately and treating it early,” said Dr. Frederick Rivara of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study.
“The focus up until now in a lot of our care is on whether you live or die, which is obviously important. But we can’t just stop there. And I think we need to look at what are the things we can do to improve people’s lives after serious illness or injury,” Rivara added.
“There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who have had traumatic injury when the focus has been the injury and the destruction of tissue and not the pain. Pain has been a secondary consideration (during treatment),” said Will Rowe, American Pain Foundation chief executive officer.
“In many instances, the injury heals and the pain persists. That’s the story that needs to be told,” Rowe said.
What Every Spinal Expert Needs To Know
Healthy ligaments are essential to a healthy, optimally functioning spine. When pain, weakness and other symptoms continue to be unresolved after a motor vehicle collision or slip and fall, it is often because ligament injury is present yet remains undiagnosed or “hidden.” Even so, the most definitive and cost-effective test to diagnose ligament injury is also one of the most underutilized.