Back pain is one of the most common and significant musculoskeletal problems in the work place today. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports over 1 million workers each year are affected by back pain. It is second only to the common cold in causing lost days from work. Economically, low back disorders in the United States cost between $50 and $100 billion each year. An estimated $11 billion of those costs are covered by Workers' Compensation, with an average claim costing $8,300 — more than twice the average cost all of other types of compensable claims combined.
Although the causes of low back pain are complex, much scientific research points to the fact that work-related activities are a significant factor in developing back disorders. The National Safety Council states that as many as 25 percent of workplace injuries are caused by overexertion, which is listed as the cause for 60 percent of all low-back injuries reported.
Back strain results from damage to muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons in the back, and is caused by over-stretching of the ligaments or tendons, or overuse of the muscles in the back. The most common problem is a strained or pulled muscle. Once the muscles, ligaments or tendons in the back are damaged, they are more susceptible to reinjury.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Center for Disease Control, looked at over 40 recent studies addressing low-back musculoskeletal injuries, in an effort to correlate work activities as risk factors for low-back injuries. According to the NIOSH report, the most significant risk factors associated with lower-back injuries were job activities that required lifting and forceful movements, and jobs that exposed workers to whole body vibration. Awkward posture and heavy physical work were also identified as risk factors.
Most often cited as the cause of low-back pain were:
- Improper methods of lifting, pulling, pushing, carrying, lowering, bending, or twisting.
- Unexpected exertion
- Sudden slip or fall
- Cumulative trauma
Back problems often result not only in lost time from work, but reduced quality of life, as those who suffer from the problem struggle to adjust their lives to avoid further injury.
Although no approach has been found to completely eliminate back injuries, there are some things that have been helpful in decreasing the amount of back injuries on the job.
- Training in proper lifting techniques
- Physical conditioning and stretching
- Reduction in size of objects or material being moved
- Adjusting the height at which the objects or material are retrieved or deposited.
- Implementing mechanical aids.
Types of injuries that may typically occur in work situations include:
- Strains and sprains
- Herniated Discs
Whether you are lifting or moving a heavy object, such as a person or a piece of equipment, there are guidelines that should be followed to protect the back from being injured. Improper lifting can result in lower back injury.
Following is an overview of proper lifting technique.
Stand directly in front of the load, with feet about shoulder width apart. One foot should be in front of the other for balance.
Plan the Lift.
Before attempting to lift or move something heavy, it is important to step back and analyze what needs to be accomplished. Think about how heavy the object is, how far it has to be moved, where it is going to end up? What is the shape of the object? Is it cumbersome, will it be easily manipulated? Is it a two-person job? Is there anything in the way that needs to be moved prior to lifting?
Get Help if Needed.
If the load is too heavy, DO NOT TRY TO LIFT IT ALONE. Find someone who can help carry it, or if possible, break the load into two smaller, more manageable loads.
Bend the knees and tighten the stomach muscles. Using both hands, grasp the object firmly and pull it as close as possible to your body.
Lift With the Legs — NOT THE BACK.
Since leg muscles are stronger than back muscles, lift with the legs, until they are straightened. Avoid jerky movements. Keep the natural curve in the spine; don't bend at the waist. To turn, move the feet around by pivoting on the toes, not by twisting at the stomach.
When it is time to set the load down, it is very important that it is done correctly. Reverse the procedures for lifting to minimize the strain on the back. If the load is going to set on the floor, bend the knees and position the load in front of you. If the load is to go at table height, set it down and keep in contact with the load until it is secure on the table.