Oh, my aching back!

Preventing a back injury is easier than treating one. Your workers’ ability to sit, stand, walk, and run depend on the health of their backs. October is National Chiropractic Health Month — a good time to train them in the basics of keeping their backs in good shape.

Common back hazards

Many people think that back injuries come from lifting heavy or awkward objects one time. Lots of back injuries, however, result not from a single lift, but from relatively minor strains that occur over time. Back disorders are frequently caused by excessive or repetitive twisting, bending, and reaching; carrying, moving, or lifting loads that are too heavy or too big; staying in one position for too long; poor physical condition; and poor posture. When back muscles or ligaments are injured from these repetitive pulling and straining activities, the back muscles, discs, and ligaments can become scarred and weakened and lose their ability to support the back, making additional injuries more likely. Other factors contributing to back injuries include: aging, stress, vibration (such as from driving), inactivity both at home and at work, and recreation done without physical conditioning.

Proper care

The question remains, what is a realistic solution? Doctors are finding that preventing back injury involves a combination of things:

Proper task design — Tasks may be designed to fit a worker better (i.e., using the correct table or chair height) and to eliminate the need to lift (i.e., providing carts or breaking loads into smaller ones). Tasks may also be managed to allow for breaks, job rotation, or lifting with a buddy.

Proper diet — To prevent injury and stiffness, workers should drink plenty of water. Because injuries can occur when workers are mentally and physically tired, they should eat a well-balanced diet to keep up their energy. They should also avoid caffeine, which increases sensitivity to pain.

Proper exercise — Stretching can make a back stronger, more flexible, and more resistant to injury. Workers should focus on these muscles: back, thighs, buttocks, and hamstrings.

Proper weight — Excessive weight exerts force and strain on a back, especially the lower back muscles. Reaching or maintaining a proper weight can reduce the strain on a worker’s back.

Proper posture — When sitting, a worker should keep his/her head directly over the shoulders, ensure his/her chair supports the lower back, and keep his/her knees at the same level as the hips. When standing, it’s good practice to tuck in the chin, keep feet a foot apart, and move about whenever possible. Workers should try standing with one foot on a small stool and switch feet. When driving, it may help to rest the back against the seat and bring the wheel close enough to allow the knees to bend a bit higher than the hips. When sleeping, workers should sleep on their sides and bend their knees, or they might sleep on their back and tuck a small pillow under their knees.

Proper lifting — Finally, workers might try this basic lifting procedure:

    1. Plan the lift and size up the load.

    2. Be sure the path is clear.

    3. Get centered over the load, then bend the knees and get a good handhold.

    4. Lift straight up and don’t bend at the waist.

    5. Don’t twist or turn the body (use the feet to turn) and keep the load close.

    6. Set the load down by bending the knees.

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