Whether it's dull and achy or sharp and stabbing, back pain can make it hard to concentrate on your job. Unfortunately, many occupations — such as nursing, construction and factory work — can place significant demands on your back. Even routine office work can cause or worsen back pain. Understand what causes back pain at work and what you can do to prevent it.
What are the common causes of back pain at work?
A number of factors can contribute to back pain at work. For example:
- Force. Exerting too much force on your back — such as by lifting or moving heavy objects — can cause injury.
- Repetition. Repeating certain movements can lead to muscle fatigue or injury.
- Posture. Slouching exaggerates your back's natural curves, which can lead to muscle fatigue and injury.
Of course, certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors — such as obesity, sleeping position, poor physical condition, smoking and stress — also can contribute to back pain.
What can I do to avoid back pain at work?
You can take steps to prevent back pain and injuries at work. For example:
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Maintaining a healthy weight minimizes stress on your back. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week — and strength training exercises at least twice a week. Combine aerobic exercise, such as swimming or walking, with exercises that strengthen and stretch your back muscles and abdomen.
- Pay attention to posture. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Don't slouch. To promote good posture when sitting, choose a chair that allows you to rest both feet flat on the floor while keeping your knees level with your hips. If necessary, prop your feet with a footstool or other support. If the chair doesn't support your lower back's curve, place a rolled towel or small pillow behind your lower back. Remove your wallet or cellphone from your back pocket when sitting, to prevent putting extra pressure on your buttocks or lower back.
- Lift properly. When lifting and carrying a heavy object, lift with your knees and tighten your core muscles. Hold the object close to your body. Maintain the natural curve of your back. If an object is too heavy to lift safely, find someone to help you.
- Modify repetitive tasks. Use lifting devices, when available, to help you lift loads. Try to alternate physically demanding tasks with less demanding ones. If you work at a computer, make sure that your monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair are positioned properly. If you're on the phone most of the day, use a headset. Avoid unnecessary bending, twisting and reaching. Limit the time you spend carrying heavy briefcases, purses and bags. Consider using a rolling suitcase.
- Listen to your body. If you must sit for a prolonged period, change your position occasionally, stand up or stretch whenever you feel tired.
Back pain can plague your workdays and free time. You're not stuck with it, though. Take time to examine your work environment and address situations that might aggravate your back. Even simple steps to ease back pain are steps in the right direction.