Back injuries are common, with 80% of adults estimated to experience one. Understanding the main causes can help with preventing back injuries in the workplace.
Know what causes back injuries at work
To reduce your risk of back injuries in the workplace, be aware of triggers, including:
- Being sedentary: Inactivity can put muscles under stress and contribute to back pain. For example, if you sit at a desk and don’t have enough back support, this can promote poor posture.
- Exerting too much force: Moving objects that are too heavy can put excessive force on your back. This can be even riskier if you’re lifting with your back rather than with your legs.
- Repetitive movements: Performing motions over and over that involve twisting your spine can put extra stress on your back.
Pay attention to posture
Take note of how you’re sitting or standing right now. Is your back straight with your shoulders back? Posture is generally something we must consider maintaining rather than something that comes naturally.
Here are some tips for preventing back injuries through good posture:
- When standing for long periods, position your feet underneath your shoulders, with your weight evenly balanced.
- Try not to slouch. Because it’s easy to lose focus on posture, it can be helpful to set an alarm to check yours. Sit and stand up straight with your shoulders back.
- Choose a chair that supports your seat and lower back, as this can help prevent a slouch. Your feet should flatly rest on the floor with your thighs parallel. Remove anything bulky from your pockets.
Set up your workspace correctly
Your environment plays a big role in posture and your risk for back injuries in the workplace.
Pay attention to the height and angle of your desk and computer. Your chair should be adjusted to a height that allows your arms to rest comfortably on the desk. Additionally, certain keyboards and mouses are made with cushioning to support your wrists.
Limit reaching and bending
If possible, use mechanical aids to move heavy objects instead of the strength of your own body. If this is an option, select the appropriate equipment for the task. When necessary, secure heavier loads with tie-down straps or use dollies that allow for pushing instead of pulling.
This still applies if you work at a desk. When setting up your desk, put the heaviest objects at the middle height, to help alleviate the need for bending and lifting at a potentially risky angle. Shelves positioned at lower or higher heights, which don’t fall at your shoulder and waist level, should be reserved for lighter objects. If possible, use a table rather than storing heavier objects on the ground.
Combine sitting and standing
Because of the potential for injury from staying in one position for a prolonged period of time, it’s helpful to switch between sitting and standing whenever possible. This can help prevent strain on your back muscles.
If you tend to get “in the zone” and forget to move around during your workday, consider setting an alarm or calendar reminder to get up and move. For example, every 2 hours is a good benchmark to take a short walk around the office building or go outside for a break from sitting down.
If you tend to stand all day, the same rules can apply. Standing for too long can also be strenuous on your back muscles, and sitting down regularly helps alleviate this and prevent back injuries.
Use correct equipment for physically demanding jobs
If your job requires heavy lifting regularly, it’s important to ensure the correct equipment is available to help prevent back injuries.
Know your physical limits
We all tend to wish we were stronger during times when we have to lift heavy things. Unfortunately, even one movement that exceeds our physical limitations can cause injury. Know your boundaries and ask for help when it’s needed.
A healthy lifestyle can play a role
While we can’t always change our environment or certain physical demands of our workplace, there are also other lifestyle habits that can help lower the risk for back injuries overall.
Aerobic exercise means you should be able to breathe regularly while you’re doing it. They can help strengthen your back muscles, as well as improve circulation. Some examples include swimming, dancing, stationary biking, the elliptical, rowing, and walking. Engaging in regular exercise also helps promote healthy weight maintenance, which offers further protection against injury.
In addition to regular physical activity, nourishing your body well supports musculoskeletal health and prevents back injuries at work.
A healthy diet should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and lean proteins. It’s also a good idea to limit ultra-processed foods that tend to be low in fiber and high in added sugar, fat, and sodium.
Smoking has been linked to a higher risk for heart disease and lung cancer, but did you know that it’s also associated with back pain?
Research shows that individuals who smoke are much more likely to develop chronic back pain compared to people who do not smoke. There appears to be a connection between smoking and brain circuitry linked to chronic pain.
Occupations that causes the most back injuries
Some occupations come with a higher risk of a back injury. Jobs that require lifting heavy objects, moving quickly, or bending over repetitively are some of the biggest offenders.
Some examples include:
- Nursing assistants
- Janitors and professional cleaners
- Stock keepers and order filers
- Maintenance and repair workers
- Truck and trailer-tractor drivers
- Laborers and material movers
Visit urgent care for Any Injuries
If you think you’ve injured your back at work, it’s prudent to get checked out by a medical professional. At our locations, we’re available 24/7 to make sure you’re on your way to a quick recovery from back injuries at work.
If you need help assessing and treating a back injury, schedule an appointment with the experts at our urgent care centers. We welcome walk-ins, or you can save your spot online. We’ll have you back better than ever in no time.
- “Back pain at work: Preventing pain and injury.” Mayo Clinic. Published 3 June 2021. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/back-pain/art-20044526
- Petre B, Torbey S, Griffith JW, et al. Smoking increases risk of pain chronification through shared corticostriatal circuitry. Hum Brain Mapp. 2015;36(2):683-694. doi:10.1002/hbm.22656
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant