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SAFETY TIP 12

Take Care of Your Back

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INTRODUCTION

Statistics show that about 80% of Americans will suffer some sort of a back injury either on or off the job during their lifetime, and many of these injuries will require medical attention. Chronic back pain also causes millions of people to suffer varying degrees of discomfort, ranging from “nagging” minor discomfort to extreme pain. In more severe cases back injuries can even result in disability and loss of work, both short and long term.

Back injuries can be suffered by office workers just as easily as more physically demanding work, and once you suffer a back injury, you are more likely to suffer another one in the future. OSHA, in fact, considers injuries to the back as one of our major workplace safety problems, and the medical costs associated with on the job back injuries are staggering.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CAUSES OF BACK INJURIES OR BACK PAIN?

  • Being in poor physical condition, especially being overweight can help contribute to the possibility for a back injury. Your extra weight, especially a “pot belly” can put a tremendous amount of stress on your back.
  • A lack of exercise is also bad for your back. Your back muscles can lose their flexibility over time, and a strain (or worse) can easily result when these unused back muscles are suddenly subjected to the stresses of lifting or other forms of physical exertion.
  • Incorrect lifting and/or carrying are also one of the leading contributors to back injuries.
  • The strain from poor posture, including sitting or standing can also contribute to the possibility for back problems.
  • Sudden twisting, especially if you are in an awkward position can also result in an injury to your back.
  • Back injuries don’t always happen all of a sudden. Sometimes a back injury can be the result of years of abusing your back, until it is so weak that one wrong move (i.e., a sudden twist, or an improper lift or bend) can result in a back injury
  • Improper workplace design, whether it be your work station in an office setting, or with the tools and equipment you use for more physically demanding work may also result in a back injury or aggravate an existing back problem.

You might have heard the term “ergonomics”. Basically what that means is the design of tools and workstations that interact with your body to help prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

NOTE: For additional information regarding ergonomics, you can use the following URL to access an OSHA ergonomics web site: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/index.html

WHAT KIND OF BACK PROBLEMS CAN I SUFFER?

  • Strain – this is stretching or overusing a muscle or ligament, and is sometimes called a “pulled muscle”. It is also the most common type of back problem, usually the result of strenuous activity when not in shape for it. The pain is usually mild to moderate.
  • Sprain – this is the tearing or rupturing of a muscle or ligament from a sudden and or violent twist. The pain can be severe and may be accompanied by muscle spasms.
  • Slipped or ruptured disk – this is the most serious type of back injury, and often results in sharp pain that can radiate don into the hips and thighs.

Fortunately, most back pain goes away after a few days of rest, and sometimes the use of a heating pad or warm baths will help. If however, you have severe back pain that doesn’t go away with rest and/or heat treatment, seek professional treatment from your Doctor.

WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT BACK PROBLEMS?

Although nothing can guarantee that you will never suffer a back injury, there are many things that you can do to help avoid one.

First, understanding how you back works can be one of the keys to back injury avoidance. It has been said that your back is your body’s foundation. Just like the foundation of your house holds up your house, your back holds up your entire body.

Your back is made up of the spinal column consisting of twenty-four vertebrae (bones). The vertebrae support the body, and protect the nerves inside of your spinal column. Between the vertebrae are disks that are like cushioning pads or “shock absorbers”. You might have heard the terms “slipped disk”, or “ruptured disk”. These are aggravations of varying degree caused by trauma to the disks that can be the cumulative result of poor back conditioning or the sudden result of poor lifting or bending techniques.

Your spine is not perfectly straight. It has three curves one at the neck, one at the middle back, and one at the lower back. Muscles and ligaments connect to the vertebrae to help hold them in place and help to keep these three curves in their natural alignment. Disruption of this natural alignment through misuse can easily result in a back pain.

Avoiding a back injury and the resulting pain can be as easy as making a few lifestyle changes, like keeping your weight in check and becoming more physically fit and limber.

You also have to start thinking about using your body and back as it is meant to be used. Think about the way you move, lift, carry, bend, reach, sit, stand, or lie down. Think also about the tools and equipment you use. Here are some suggestions that should help:

Exercise

Regular exercise strengthens your back, increases your flexibility, and can often relieve soreness. Exercises designed for you in particular, based on your overall condition are the best. For that reason, we are not providing any type of exercise regimen here, but rather we suggest that you consult with your own Doctor about what type of exercise routine is best for you and your back. Remember, a strong flexible and healthy back can do its job supporting your body without aches and pains.

Lifting/carrying

After assessing the load to make sure that it is something you can handle, and your route is clear, there are basically 5 steps to safe lifting and carrying:

  • Stand close to the load with your feet firmly planted about shoulder width apart.
  • Squat down, bending at the hips and knees, keeping your back as straight as possible
  • As you grip the load, arch your lower back by pulling your shoulders back and sticking your chest out.
  • Keep the load close to your body and lift your self up with your legs, again keeping your back as straight as possible.
  • When setting the load back down, squat again, bending at the knees and hips and keep your lower back arched in. Do twist your torso at the same you are lifting up or setting down a load. Move your whole body in the direction you want to place the load.

Bending

Squat, don’t bend is the simple rule to remember here. Whenever you have to reach something down low, bend at the knees rather than your back.

Reaching

Over reaching can easily result in a sudden back injury, and repetitive over reaching can eventually take its toll on your back. Arrange your workstation so that the material tools, or equipment you use frequently are within easy reach. If that is not possible position your self that you move your whole body to grasp the object, rather than overreaching for it.

Sitting

As mentioned earlier, there are three curves in your back that we need to keep in alignment. The lower curve (lumbar curve) is the one that needs the most support when you sit. Here are some tips for you to remember:

  • While seated, keep your feet flat on the floor and your weight evenly distributed on both hips.
  • Use chairs or seats that provide this important lumbar support whenever possible. If needed, you can use a lumber support at the small of your back such as a small pillow, or rolled up towel. This is not only a good idea at home or work, but while driving your car as well, particularly if driving long distance.
  • Adjust the height of your chair or car seat so that your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible. NOTE: If your chair is not adjustable, try sitting on a small pillow if the seat is too low. If the seat is too high, try using a footrest.
  • Move your chair so that you are close to your work, to prevent slouching over, putting unnecessary stress on your back.
  • Bring reading material or your PC screen up to eye level, again to prevent slouching over.
  • Don’t turn and reach for items from the hips up. Instead position yourself that you can turn your whole body and reach for the object.
  • Don’t “scoot” around in a rolling chair. You could easily lose your balance or fall over and strain your back.

Standing

Bad standing posture (i.e., slouching) can lead to a bad back. Stand with your chest out, your shoulders back, and your ears, shoulders, and hips lined up. If you are going to be standing in one position for a while, you can try placing one foot on a small box or footstool. Shifting from one foot to the other on this footrest occasionally helps to prevent unnecessary stress on your back. Even something as simple as badly worn or unevenly worn soles on your shoes can also lead to bad posture and possible back pain.

Lying Down

Many people seem to forget that they spend a very large portion of the time lying down, either sleeping or resting. This should be a restful time for your back, as well as your whole body. The idea here is to take the load off your back for a while so that your back can take a break from supporting your whole body, and there are some things you should consider to make this possible:

  • Try to sleep or rest on a firm mattress to provide your back with as much support as possible.
  • Try not to sleep or rest on your stomach: this throws out the natural curvature of you spine that we discussed previously. Instead, try to sleep on your side with your knees bent.
  • If you sleep on your back, you can try a small pillow under the small of your back or under your knees to help retain the proper curvature of your spine, and take pressure off of your lower back.

Tools and Equipment

Whenever possible, use tools and equipment that are ergonomically designed to reduce the possibility for musculoskeletal disorders, including back problems. Many manufacturers now offer these types of tools and equi pment, including we here at U-TECK.

Note: Please see this our companion “Teck Tips” feature for more information on our ergonomically friendly equipment.

Remember, if you take your back for granted until it hurts, then you are taking a big risk. By then, some irreversible damage might have already been done. Take care of your back properly b efore something happens, and it will take care of you.

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