There’s a reason back pain is the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims and occupational disability in the United States. Jobs that involve manual labor tend to place added stress on certain areas of the spine or its supporting parts. Chronic lower back pain, spinal fractures, and disc herniation are among the most common workplace-related back injuries. Santa Monica spine surgeons from The Spine Institute recommend a few steps you can take to prevent or reduce the risk of sustaining work-related injuries such as these.
When the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the spine go from a passive state to an active one, more energy is going to be needed. Stretching increases blood flow to bring more nutrients to these soft tissues and increase the flexibility of spinal joints (facet joints). A pre-work stretch routine to prepare your spine for work might involve:
• Forward bends (don’t force the stretch) • Side-to-side neck stretches • Shoulder rotations • Gentle hamstring stretches • Hip flexor stretches (to provide added support for your lower back)
If you must perform the same tasks repeatedly, you may find yourself overstressing your lower or upper back (the two most common areas affected by spine-related pain). Avoid the temptation to “push through the pain” just to get the job done. Doing so may damage discs or irritate nerves around your back. Reduce your risk of overstress injuries by:
• Taking a break when you start to notice back pain • Mixing up the tasks you do throughout your day so you’re not using the same back-supporting muscles constantly • Using workplace assistance devices like dollies when heavier items need to be transported
You’re probably spending a lot of time on your feet if you’re doing manual labor. If you don’t have shoes that provide sufficient support, your lower back will be absorbing added strain from your movements. If you are limited in what types shoes you can use for work, talk to your doctor or a foot specialist about custom orthotics, or find over-the-counter shoe inserts that provide enough support.
There may be times when you can’t avoid placing some degree of added stress on your back at work. Back braces and similar wearable devices can provide protection by taking some of the direct pressure off your spine as you lift, stretch, or bend at work. Your doctor should be able to provide some suggestions appropriate for your occupation. Common supportive devices include:
• Thoracic (mid-back) braces to minimize upper back, shoulder, and neck strain • Lumbar (lower back) support belts or braces • Corrective clavicle braces to maintain correct posture while reaching or stretching • Adjustable back braces that can be placed where you need support
Making regular exercise a habit when not at work can do many good things for your back. In addition to increasing muscle strength and flexibility, exercise also triggers the release of hormones called endorphins that produce effects similar to some pain relievers. Strive for about 20-30 minutes of daily exercise when not working. While your doctor can provide recommendations specific to you, the following exercises might be good for your back:
• Casual walking, jogging, or biking • Core strengthening exercises • Water-based exercises (especially beneficial if you’re already experiencing back pain from other sources)
In some instances, back pain may require minimally invasive surgery. If you think you might need surgery, get in touch with The Spine Institute, where we specialize in procedures such as cervical artificial disc replacement and Coflex back surgery. Santa Monica residents who are experiencing chronic back pain can call 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.