From tense shoulders to slipped discs, work-related back pain is a major issue for employees and employers alike.
Not only are musculoskeletal issues the second leading cause of long-term disability claims, they can also affect workers’ mental health and increase distraction at work. In severe cases, staff with back complaints may need to take extra time off to deal with their symptoms.
This is especially important while employees continue to work from home. They take fewer breaks and get up to stretch less often than they would if they were in the office.
In this blog, we’ll look at what causes back pain and offer simple, actionable tips for how to prevent it.
What are some common causes of back pain in the workplace?
No matter what your industry, your employees likely have a high chance of developing back issues. Here are some of the most common factors that put them at risk:
- Prolonged sitting
- Poor posture while seated
- Driving long distances
- Standing or leaning for long periods of time
- Twisting or bending too often or incorrectly
- Lifting incorrectly or handling too much at once
- Overusing certain muscles
The Importance of Ergonomics
Ergonomics is important because when you're doing a job and your body is stressed by an awkward posture, extreme temperature, or repeated movement your musculoskeletal system is affected. This can lead to back pain and potential injury.
In an office setting, poor ergonomics can lead to:
- Back & Neck Strain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Sitting vs Standing
Sitting can cause significant issues to your body, especially your back. Why not consider incorporating a standing component to your working efforts? There are a number of things to consider when standing while working:
- Use your kitchen counter
- Add to your existing desk
- Build your own standing desk
- Table height should be at or slightly below elbow height
- Face 20-28 inches from screen
- Use something comfortable to stand on
What can you do to help your employees prevent back pain?
As an employer, you can help by carrying out regular risk assessments and creating safety policies that are designed to protect your employees’ back health.
You can also contribute through education. By providing your team with information, training, and ongoing supervision, you can ensure they are working in the safest way possible.
Employees working from home may not have access to an ergonomic workstation. One way employers are addressing this problem is by providing a $500 budget for employees to purchase home office supplies such as a desk and chair.
To get started, here are 5 essential tips to share with your team:
How to Prevent Back Pain at Work: 5 Tips to Share With Employees
1. Stay fit by exercising and stretching
Fitness is the first step to maintaining a healthy back. By building strong core and back muscles through simple exercises like these, you can greatly reduce your chances of developing back complaints, as well as the severity of any existing pain.
The video below also shows a quick one-minute exercise you can do to relieve back pain throughout the day.
2. Take regular breaks
Taking pauses from time to time is one of the easiest ways to prevent back pain at work. Not only do breaks have physical benefits, they can also boost mood, reduce stress, and improve focus.
So how often and how long should these breaks be? A good rule of thumb is to take at least a few minutes about once an hour, but the best strategy is to listen to your body.
There are lots of simple ways to incorporate breaks into your work routine, but these 4 helpful pointers are a great place to start.
3. Improve posture at work
Sitting at a desk all day is one of the most common causes of back pain in office workers. To ensure you’re sitting in the healthiest way possible, pay extra attention to your:
- Seated posture: Sit up with your back straight, your shoulders back, and your feet flat on the floor. When done properly, your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
- Computer screen position: Place your monitor at eye level to ensure you aren’t craning your neck.
- Chair height: Adjust the height of your chair so that your wrists and forearms are straight and level with the floor whenever you use the keyboard.
- Keyboard position: Leave a 4- to 6-inch gap between your keyboard and the edge of your desk so that you can rest your wrists on it while you type.
- Mouse position: Make sure your mouse is as close to you as possible so that you don’t have to strain to reach it
4. Make lifestyle changes
Did you know that both stress and smoking can increase back pain?
Doctors believe that smoking reduces the flow of oxygen to the spine, which can lead to the degeneration of the discs in the back. To save your back (as well as your lungs), kick this unhealthy habit as soon as possible.
The same goes for stress. In addition to taking breaks at work, make sure you take advantage of your full vacation time and really relax while away. Regular exercise and mindfulness meditation can also go a long way toward reducing stress levels and, by extension, preventing back injury.
5. Lift Safely
Finally, one of the most common causes of work-related back pain is handling objects incorrectly. Whether you’re lifting heavy hardware or simply moving boxes of printer paper around the office, using proper form can make a huge difference for your well-being.
Here are some essential safety pointers to consider each time you lift:
- plan your move
- start in a stable position
- keep the load close to your waist
- keep your back as straight as possible
- avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways
- avoid lifting very heavy loads
- push heavy objects, don't pull them
- distribute the weight evenly
To protect your employees’ back health, encourage them to start paying attention to their day-to-day actions at work. Educate them on the dangers that exist in their particular role, and share the back pain prevention tips we’ve discussed above. Being proactive will ensure your team stays healthy, and more focused. The instance of musculoskeletal-related disability claims will likely decrease, so your bottom line will also benefit.