Safety Tip of the Week: Preventing back pain and injury at work

Woman sitting at computer desk with hands holding waistline as if having pain in back

This week, Wendy Couture, the district’s safety and risk reduction manager, shares information about preventing back pain and injury at work.

Heavy lifting, repetitive motion and sitting at a desk all day can cause back pain. Get the facts about back pain and how to prevent it.

Whether it’s dull and achy or sharp and stabbing, back pain can make it hard to concentrate. Many different occupations can place demands on your back. Including routine office work can cause or worsen back pain. It’s important to understand what may cause back pain at work and what you can do to prevent it.

Common causes of back pain at work according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Exerting too much force on your back — such as by lifting or moving heavy objects — can cause injury.
  • Repeating certain movements, especially those that involve twisting or rotating your spine, can injure your back.
  • An inactive job or a desk job can contribute to back pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.

Back pain and lifestyle factors

Of course, factors such as aging, obesity and poor physical condition also can contribute to back pain.

Start by making a healthy eating plan. Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition that causes your bones to become weak and brittle and may lead to back pain.

Combine aerobic exercise, such as swimming or walking, with exercises that strengthen and stretch your back muscles and abdomen. Exercises that increase your balance and strength can also decrease your risk of falling and injuring your back. Consider tai chi, yoga and weight-bearing exercises that challenge your balance.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week — and strength training exercises at least twice a week.

Preventing back pain

You can take steps to avoid and prevent back pain. For example the Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

  • Pay attention to posture.When standing, balance your weight evenly on your feet. Don’t slouch. To promote good posture when sitting, choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Remove your wallet or cellphone from your back pocket when sitting to prevent putting extra pressure on your buttocks or lower back.
  • Lift properly.When lifting and carrying a heavy object, lift with your legs and tighten your core muscles. Hold the object close to your body. Maintain the natural curve of your back. Don’t twist when lifting. If an object is too heavy to lift safely, ask someone to help you.
  • Modify repetitive tasks.Use lifting devices, when available, to help you lift loads. Try to alternate physically demanding tasks with less demanding ones. If you work at a computer, make sure that your monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair are positioned properly. If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset. Avoid unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching. Limit the time you spend carrying heavy briefcases, purses and bags. Consider using a rolling suitcase.
  • Listen to your body.If you must sit for a prolonged period, change your position often. Periodically walk around and gently stretch your muscles to relieve tension.

Back pain can make everyday tasks difficult. Taking some simple steps to take care of your back will make your days more enjoyable.