According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the back injuries of over one million workers account for almost 20 percent of all the injuries and illnesses that happen in the workplace. Back pain is only second to the common cold with regards to the most days lost at work.
With so many back injuries in the workplace, it is important to understand what may be accounting for all these incidences and then take the proper steps to ensure that injury may be avoided in the future.
Common Causes of Back Injuries in the Workplace
Regardless of what you do for a living, back injury is a commonplace problem in workplaces across all industries. Common causes of back pain at work may include:
- Excessive force: Putting too much stress on your back by participating in activities such as lifting or moving heavy objects may lead to injury.
- Posture: Improper sitting and/or slouching for long periods of time can result in muscle fatigue or injury.
- Repetition: Overuse of certain muscles, tendons or ligaments in the back due to repetitive movements may also lead to muscle fatigue or injury.
How to Avoid Workplace Back Injuries
There are many ways back injuries can be prevented in the workforce, such as exercise, practicing good posture, proper lifting and workplace breaks.
Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping body parts toned can minimize stress on the back. In fact, it is recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services to combine aerobic exercises with exercises that strengthen the back muscles and abdomen.
Keep an Eye on Posture
Good posture is key to back pain relief and prevention whether you’re sitting or standing. If you’re standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet and do not slouch.
If you have a job where you sit for long periods of time, invest in a chair that allows for good lumbar (low back) support. It should also give you the ability to keep your feet on the ground and your knees level with your hips.
Finally, remove anything from your back pockets before sitting down. This avoids placing excess, awkward pressure on your buttocks and lower back.
Other desk job factors that can have an impact on posture include:
- The height of the computer chair: Chair height should be adjusted so that your wrists and forearms are parallel with the floor.
- The position of the computer screen: The screen should be eye-level.
- Where the keyboard is positioned: The keyboard should be placed between four and six inches from the edge of the desk to rest your wrists when you’re not typing. Wrists should be level with keys and elbows should be tucked in.
- Where the mouse is positioned: Keep the mouse as close to you as possible.
Lift with your legs, not with your back – this is a well-known tip and it is quite true with regards to the health of your back. To pick up and carry a heavy object, squat slightly and bend at the knees. To bend and lift at the waist puts a sudden and intense strain on the back.
Other important lifting points:
- Start in a good position
- Think about where and how far to go before lifting to avoid extra time holding and managing a heavy object
- Avoid twisting or leaning sideways
- Keep your head upright
- Keep the object close to the waist to evenly distribute weight
- Know your limits and ask for help, if necessary
Take a Break
Sitting in the same position for long periods of time is not only bad for your back but other parts of the body. To avoid unnecessary strain on certain muscles over others, take short and frequent breaks from sitting. Doing so will shift weight-bearing responsibility to other groups of muscles for a time and keep you from becoming stiff and tense.
What to Do When You’re Hurt at Work
Sometimes, despite best efforts, incidents happen and injuries result. If you suffer a back or any other type of injury while on the job, there are four important steps you need to take to get you back on your feet with minimal downtime:
- Alert the proper authority: When injury first takes place, let your superior know. Delay in informing the right person could ultimately be a delay in care you need.
- Record the incident: Write down what happened immediately in the event you need to make a workers’ compensation claim down the line. (Do not rely on memory.) When writing, answer the following questions:
- Did anyone witness the incident? Was anyone else hurt?
- What happened?
- When and where did the incident take place?
- Seek medical attention: Get evaluated by a medical professional, even if you feel the injury is minor in nature. What starts off as minor may develop into a more significant problem later on.
- Acquire support and benefits: If your injury is work-related, you may be entitled to reasonable reimbursement of medical costs. You may also be entitled to payments that compensate for income while you’re out of work or a payout if you become permanently disabled as the result of your injury.
If you’ve suffered a back or other musculoskeletal injury at work and need a medical assessment for your workers’ compensation claim or have any questions, contact The Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders today for more information.