Lower back pain accounts for about a third of all work-related disabilities experienced by employees, making back pain the leading cause of job-related disability worldwide. While diligent employers may post signs to encourage proper lifting techniques, workers can’t be monitored at all times to ensure poor habits are corrected to prevent injury. However, there is new shoe technology that may prevent back pain for workers with physically demanding jobs.
What Is This “Smart Shoe” Technology?
Canadian researchers have developed what they call a “smart sensor” that can be placed in a worker’s shoe. It works by automatically detecting when the wearer is in an incorrect lifting position and alerting him or her of the potential risk of experiencing an injury. The device may be helpful since it’s not always easy to be mindful of proper lifting techniques, even for people who normally try to be careful with how they lift things.
How Does It Work?
The sensors use foot pressure to determine whether or not the wearer is in the proper position to lift something. Measurements of weight distribution and foot pressure are combined with information taken from a hat-mounted accelerometer, which measures acceleration forces caused by movement and gravity.
The safety hat device determines how fast an employee is moving. The device then combines all collected data to determine if the worker is placing excessive pressure on the spine instead of squatting down and lifting with the support of the knees and hips.
Does It Really Work?
Researchers tested the device by having a group of workers place the sensors in their shoes and wear the accompanying safety hats. Half of them were told to purposely lift improperly while the other half followed proper lifting protocol. The device was able to accurately identify proper and improper lifting techniques with 95 percent accuracy.
What’s Next for This Pressure Alerting Technology?
Right now, the device provides data at the end of shifts so workers can determine if they were using proper lifting techniques. Researchers hope to add real-time capabilities and a vibrating button to the pressure sensing device so workers will be alerted immediately when their lifting posture isn’t right.
How Can Improper Lifting at Work Contribute to Back Pain?
More than a million of the 6 million or so workplace injuries that occur in the United States each year are due to acute or chronic back issues. Most back injuries experienced at work are due to improper lifting techniques.
Injuries of this nature often affect workers in construction and warehouse settings. These are the types of workers researchers think the technology could help most by minimizing the risk of spine-related injuries from poor lifting habits. Such injuries may result in:
- Strained back-supporting muscles and ligaments
- Increased pain from existing back conditions such as herniated discs
- Lumbar vertebral discs “slipping” out of place
- Irritation of the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and moves downward
If you do regular lifting, moving, bending, or reaching at work, you may benefit from this new shoe technology. Since it’s not yet readily available, what you can do in the meantime is remember to bend your knees and hips when lifting something, avoid lifting anything above shoulder level, keep whatever you carry close to your body, and avoid twisting or turning as you lift. Also, take a break if you feel sudden pain, and see your doctor or a Beverly Hills back surgeon if discomfort lingers or gets worse.
There are many minimally invasive procedures that can eliminate back pain, including traditional fusion surgery and laminectomy back surgery. Beverly Hills residents can trust in Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.