Back pain doesn't discriminate. For office workers, old and young people and those who exercise and those who don't -- back pain is an equal opportunity ailment.
Eighty percent of Americans experience back pain in their lifetime and this ailment can have serious implications for job security by negatively affecting even the most dedicated employee's ability to go to work.
And it doesn't help that daily activities in the workplace such as lifting heavy items, sitting in front of a computer, standing in one position for a prolonged period of time or repetitive motion and strain injuries are the main causes of back pain. Employees cannot afford to risk losing their jobs while being stuck home recuperating or go to work while taking oral pain medication which can have side effects and can impact an employee's focus or job performance.
Common Causes of Back Pain at Work
There are a number of factors that can contribute to back pain at work. Specifically, the way your workstation is configured can have a huge impact on your posture and overall comfort level. If you suspect your workstation setup is contributing to your back pain, consider speaking to your manager or Human Resources department. Some experts even suggest standing desks are better for overall ergonomic harmony. Keep these additional factors in mind:
- Minimize lifting heavy objects or lifting objects incorrectly. See Proper Lifting Tips for more information;
- Take frequent breaks if you are engaging in a repetitive motion. Such actions can lead to Repetitive Motion Disorder.
- Pay attention to your posture. Slouching or tilting your head forward too much can have negative consequences. Speak to your manager about a possible work station assessment if you aren’t sure of proper posture.
Tips for Prevention
Here are some simple and effective tips that can help reduce the risk of injury in the workplace:
- Think ergonomically. Use wrist rests, a more ergonomic keyboard, adjustable chair and a track ball instead of a mouse.
- Be sure your computer monitor sits at eye level and follow the "90-90" rule by positioning your elbows, hips, knees and ankles in a 90-degree position for healthiest alignment.
- Use a document holder to elevate materials to eye level, rather than bending your neck down toward the desk.
- Take regular breaks and vary the pace of work. Change positions frequently and take a short break to stretch or walk around.
- Make it a habit to perform back, shoulder, wrist stretches and shoulder shrugs several times a day to prevent body strain and stress.
- Adjust your chair to sit with your feet flat on the floor.
- If you have a chair without lumbar support, replace it or use a small pillow or tightly rolled towel to relieve pressure on the lower back. Be sure the towel isn't too thick that it forces you to lean forward, which creates more strain.
- Do not multitask by cradling your telephone receiver between your neck and shoulder as this unnatural position puts a great deal of strain on your neck muscles.
If you need to have your hands free, try using a headset or put the caller on speakerphone.
- Make exercise a part of your daily routine.
- Watch your posture and work on sitting up straight.
The Right to a Safe Workplace
While these may seem fairly simple, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports that work-related musculoskeletal disorders involving the neck, upper extremities and back are one of the leading causes of lost workday injury and illness. Employees have a right to a safe workplace, and employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. OSHA recommends that businesses implement an ergonomic program that includes: management support, worker involvement, training for management and employees, a system for identifying problems, encouragement of early reporting, implementation of solutions, and an evaluation of progress.
Additionally, employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising their rights, which includes the right to report a hazard or injury. Any complaints to OSHA regarding retaliatory action must be made within 30 days of the act.