Your back is one of the most used part of your body and there are constant loads acting on your spinal cord when you are sitting, walking, exercising or even sleeping. A healthy and strong back is essential for maintaining quality of life through the middle and old age. However, back pain is the second most prevalent cause of chronic sickness in the UK, after stress.
Causes of Back Pain
There are many causes of back pain, most of which you can easily avoid by making some minor changes to your lifestyle and way of working. An improper posture, coupled with weak back and abdominal muscles, is the most common cause of back pain. The abdominal and back muscles become weak because most of us either don’t get time for exercising; and those who do seldom exercise their middle limb, instead engaging in walking, jogging or weight training. Resultantly, the muscles in the middle portion grow weaker and do not support the spine properly.
The spinal cord contains some 33 vertebrae, which are held in place by ligaments, muscles and tissues. These vertebrae have are naturally aligned in 4 different curves. Any time the alignment of the vertebrae is disturbed, the loads imposed on the back bone become uneven or excessive. That’s why it is important to maintain proper posture while working.
Other causes of back pain include ligament or tissue injury resulting from an improper posture, lifting weights, or repetitive actions that strain the back or neck.
Preventing Back Problems at Work
Cumulatively, there are more than 7.6 million work-days wasted due to back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Fortunately, you can significantly control back-related problems by attending to some basic things at work.
Today’s working environment requires people to sit long hours before a computer screen. When typing on a keyboard or using the mouse, your arms are stretched forward, which shifts your centre of gravity forward and imposes stress on the spine. As days turn into months and years, this sustained and repetitive stress can disturb the natural alignment of the vertebrae, causing chronic back problems. You should take the following steps to make the working environment in your office more back-friendly.
- The British law requires the workstation chairs to have five legs and adjustable seats and backs. When working, your back should be upright, your feet should be firmly on the ground, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor or slightly sloping down. Demonstrate the proper posture to the employees and talk about it regularly during the health and safety briefings.
- Keep the distance between the keyboard/mouse and the shoulders to a minimum. You should not have to stretch your arms forward in order to reach and work at the keyboard.
- Keep the screen resolution and display size comfortable, so that people don’t have to bend forward and squint when they are looking at the screens.
- If workers are required to answer the phone often, get them headsets. This will prevent neck pain caused by repetitive strain and will also improve the productivity by keeping the hands free.
- Inspect the workstations regularly for ergonomic layout. Advise people about keeping all items on their desks within easy reach, so they don’t have to stretch forward for picking up things.
- Do not place files, papers, or other items at places where people have to bend down to pick them up. Advise people to be careful when lifting anything even when they are away from work.
- Ask people to avoid sitting in the same posture for prolonged periods of time and take regular breaks. They can sit back and relax for a few minutes after they have worked in the same portion for a couple of hours. Stretching your back frequently helps maintain proper alignment and relieves stress.
is a health and safety consultant and writes for and various magazines about workplace issues.