When it comes to occupational injuries, many people tend to overlook ergonomic injuries and more specifically, back injuries. Back injuries account for approximately 20% of all occupational injuries and illnesses that occur and are the most common reason for missed work days; second only to the common cold.
A majority people tend to overlook back pain and injuries; thinking that they are only temporary and will subside on their own, but still continue to exert their back like normal. That is only subjecting their backs to a more serious injury and more chronic pain. These back injuries can happen in many different ways; Whether it’s resulting from a traumatic accident, poor lifting technique, or simply not being in our best shape. Roughly 80% of Americans have experienced some level of back pain or injury due to a strain, sprain, bulging disk, or herniated disk.
A strain occurs when we overuse or overstretch our back muscles. Sprains on the other hand occur when the ligaments in our back become torn or excessively stretched. Some common ways we can strain or sprain our backs is through bending, twisting, and reaching. The injuries you can sustain to your disks include a herniated disk or bulging disk. A herniated disk happens when the disk between your spinal vertebrae leak its cushioning fluid. A bulging disk occurs when the vertebrae compresses the disk and it begins to protrude from between.
Good news is, these injuries can be prevented. Our overall goal should be to maintain our spine’s natural “s” shaped curve whether we are sitting, standing, or lifting. We need to make sure we’re standing, sitting, and lifting properly too. Standing properly to avoid back pain and injury can be achieved by “stacking” our ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles; keeping our shoulders back and down; and tightening your core muscles to help keep you upright. If you do, however, have to stand in the same location for a period of time, it is best to have a foot rest available to help you alternate propping your legs on it to alleviate some of the tension and pressure on your lower back.
Now whether you’re sitting at a desk or in a car, we still want to make sure we are maintaining our spine’s natural “s” shaped curve. We can manage this by sitting with our ankles, knees, thighs, and elbows at a 90-degree angle; all while making sure our head is balanced over our relaxed shoulders. Using the back of the chair for support will help alleviate some of the pressure we are exerting on our spine.
Lifting properly is not as hard as you may think. The most important part is being aware of your body while you are lifting; How are you lifting? Are you lifting safely? To avoid back pain and injury when lifting an object off of the ground, you want to get as close to the object as possible. Squat down using your legs and tighten your core. Pull the load close to you and lift using your legs and core. Your muscles were made to do the heavy lifting; Your back, not so much. Make sure while you are lifting, you avoid twisting, bending, or reaching and that the path to your destination is clear and free of any other hazards such as slip, trip, or fall hazards. Often times these can result in back pain/injury. When loads get to be too heavy, use a mechanical device to help you lift or even a partner to do some team lifting. This way, you are distributing the weight of the load and not overexerting yourself.
If you have a job that requires you to sit, stand, or lift frequently, try implementing some of these to help reduce your risk for injury:
Being conscious of your back at all times and standing, sitting, and lifting properly can help you preserve your back and decrease your chance for a serious injury. You only get one back; Let’s do our best to keep is strong and safe!