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Preventing Back Injury

Back injuries account for 20% of all injuries in the workplace and are frequently caused by incorrect lifting, or trying to lift something that is too heavy. Lifting or bending and twisting at the same time is a common cause of spinal joint sprain and disc injury. Chronic or repetitive back strain can result from a number of causes, including frequent lifting, bending, leaning over a low work surface and poor sitting posture.

Whatever the cause, the result is bound to be painful, with stiffness and limitation of movement in the back. The injury may be limited to the back muscles, in which case the pain is generally diffuse and felt at the site of muscle strain. If the spinal joints or discs are involved, the pain tends to be felt in the midline, sometimes with radiating nerve pain.

According to research conducted by the University of Queensland over a span of five years, a mentally stressful job can make you more susceptible to back injury. It was found that these injuries tend to persist for a long time even with proper treatment. They concluded that psychological stress factors have a strong influence on back injury and recovery.

Those involved in manual physical work involving repetitive lifting, and those who have to stand at their job, or perform repetitive actions, may benefit from using an industrial back brace. This type of brace has shoulder straps that allow the brace to be fastened and unfastened as needed, without having to take it off altogether. This can be used preventively to provide extra support for the low back when lifting. It can also be worn after a back injury to provide stability and hasten recovery.

For people who sit at a desk, there are various types of ergonomic seats to help prevent back injury by reducing compression on the spine when sitting. One of the best types is a saddle stool or saddle chair, based on the same principles as an equestrian saddle. The pelvis is rotated forward to an optimum angle of approximately 45 degrees to the spine, compared to the 90 degree angle typically associated with sitting on a traditional chair. The amount of pressure on the spine is reduced significantly, with an increase in the correct forward curvature of the lumbar area. The body is more upright and balanced in a saddle seat, with less strain and fatigue on the muscles.

Back injury prevention is often a question of common sense. Don’t lift loads that could strain your back – get help. Keep loads close to your body. Don’t lift and twist at the same time. Bend your knees so your thigh muscles can do some of the work. Don’t sit for long periods without getting up and moving around. Everyone knows these simple rules, but they are not always followed.

If you have injured your back, do keep in mind that when the pain is subsiding and you are starting to feel better, this doesn’t mean you should stop being careful. The likelihood of re-injury is high if you over-use your back too soon. Too many people fall into this trap and have to start over with their recovery. The worse your pain is to begin with, the longer it will take to get better. Patience is required, as it always seems to take longer than you want it to!