Low back pain affects 80% of people within their lifetime and costs corporations over 300 billion dollars annually. While many organizations realize that low back pain is a serious problem in the workplace, it’s less common to find strategies to prevent back pain before it results in lost time and work comp claims. Here are some of the best strategies for preventing low back pain in the workplace.
Reduce Mental Stress
More than 36% of workers said they typically feel stressed out during their workweek.1 Increased anxiety can lead to increased muscle tension, which can exacerbate pain levels. Exercise and stretching can be very helpful (see below) but one of the most effective ways to control stress quickly is to adopt this breathing technique.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds
- Release breath through your mouth for a count of 8 seconds
- Repeat this cycle 3 times
Begin an Exercise Routine
One of the best preventative medicines for back pain is movement. A 20% reduction is back pain was noted among participants in a study who simply started a walking routine.2 The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This is achievable with a brisk 30-minute walk 5 days a week. 3 If you are unsure of appropriate exercises to perform, consult with a health care provider (Physician or Physical Therapist).
The body is 60% water, so staying hydrated is important for multiple systems. Water is an essential component of back health as the muscles of the back can spasm or become stiff when you are dehydrated.
Further, the discs in your spine are made up of 80% water, so staying hydrated is very important for the cushioning discs between your vertebrae.
General recommendations for water consumption are to consume half your body weight in ounces daily or up to 91 ounces of water for women and 125 ounces of water for men.4
Reduce Body Weight
Obesity can increase your risk of back pain by a factor of 4, yet even just 20 minutes of light exercise can lower that risk by a surprising 32% according to research. 5 Reducing body weight by even 5 pounds can relieve up to 15 pounds of pressure from your joints, including your knees and spine. 6
Improve Your Fuel (Nutrition)
Adjusting your food intake to an appropriate level can help you achieve both weight loss goals and nutritional goals. If approved by your physician, a reduction of 500 calories a day can lead to a reduction of 1 pound a week. The fuel you provide to your body is also an important factor when it comes to soft tissue health and bone growth, as you need a sufficient source of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D for healthy joints. 7
Focus on Posture Variation
There is no such thing as perfect posture. The research is lacking when it comes to proof of a perfect position to sit or stand while performing work. Understanding the basic principles of movement and how your body adapts to stress is key to preventing back pain. Avoid long periods of sitting or standing in a stationary position. In other words, find ways to keep moving and changing your posture.
Lift and Carry Items Properly
Two-thirds of back injuries in the workplace happen when workers are performing unusual activities or tasks in an unfamiliar environment. Both repetitive lifting tasks and one-time lifting tasks should be taken seriously and approached with proper lifting techniques. Remember to engage the abdominals before lifting, keep the object close to the body, and avoid lifting items with poor posture.
Perform Micro-Stretches at Work
Micro-stretches are simply focused movements that help to break up the stagnant postures we fight against everyday. These aren’t designed to treat chronic or acute back pain. Instead, perform these movements throughout the day in order to provide posture variety and movement in order to prevent injury caused by repetitive or stagnant postures. (For the full list of micro-stretches, take a look at our article next week).
- Stress in the Workplace (2011, March) Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/phwa-survey-summary.pdf
- Shnayderman, I., & Katz-Leurer, M. (2012). An aerobic walking programme versus muscle strengthening programme for chronic low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation,27(3), 207-214. doi:10.1177/0269215512453353
- American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp#.WxUUlVMvxE4
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. (2005). doi:10.17226/10925
- How Are Back Pain, Obesity, and Exercise Connected? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aaos.org/AAOSNow/2013/Dec/clinical/clinical2/?ssopc=1
- Bailey, J. (2017, July 18). One Pound Weight Loss Equals Reduced Pressure on Knees. Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/403363-one-pound-weight-loss-equals-reduced-pressure-on-knees/
- Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet