October 16th is World Spine Day (WSD). On this day every year, those across the globe within the health care community, various political decision makers and general public, gather to raise awareness about spinal health and spine disorders.  The theme for the 2015 edition of WSD is, “Your Back at Work.” The theme surrounds the prevention, education and management of spine disorders in the workplace.

The Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors (ACAC) will be celebrating WSD all through the month of October. We’ve decided, why stop at protecting your back at work? We’ll be discussing protecting your back in all aspects of life: work, home and at play. This is the second installment in the three-part series. Watch for another blog at the end of the month.

Part II: Protecting Your Back at Work

Far too often we hear of peoples’ bad back, stiff neck or sore feet as a result of something that happened at their workplace. Fifty per cent of the working population will experience back or neck pain symptoms at least once per year. Many just brush off their pain as something they’ll just have to deal with. This could not be further from the truth. The WSD theme for 2015, “Your Back at Work,” was built around informing people that a back-related, work injury is something that can be both prevented and treated.

How do back injuries typically happen at work?

There are common injuries for those who work manually and those who work at a desk job.

For those that work on their feet, their job usually involves awkward postures and repeated forceful movements. This could include construction workers, nurses, auto mechanics, store check-out personnel, etc. A lot of their pain comes from overextension (twisting) of the spine from heavy lifting, pulling, pushing. This can wreak havoc on your back over time as you could be dealing with repeated strains and sprains, which don’t have time to heal because you aggravate them daily.

Others, who work mostly at a desk, can hurt their back in different ways. Just sitting for extended periods of time, for even those who have great posture, can wear on your back if done five days a week, every week!  Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing and the toll on your back health is even worse if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 per cent of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day.

What can I do to prevent a back-related workplace injury?

  • Lifestyle –Lifestyle can play a huge part in the big picture of your back health. Negative habits like poor nutrition, not getting enough sleep or not getting enough exercise can cause muscle fatigue, strain, tendonitis, and other disorders of the movement system. Living a healthier lifestyle may go a long way in protecting your back.
  • Stretching – If you think you don’t need to stretch just to go to work, think again.  Stretching gives your muscles a signal they are about to be used and helps improve range of motion and physical function. A few minutes of stretching before starting work will make you feel better and may help you avoid injuries. The Straighten Up Alberta program is a great resource for people looking for a routine to start off their day.
  • Lifting Properly – One of the biggest concerns in the workplace is lifting and loading. When you lift something, the load on your spine increases and your spine can only bear so much before it is injured. It doesn’t matter if you’re working for a residential moving company or carrying a large stack of paper to load into the photocopier When you are lifting, correct body position and lifting technique is crucial to preventing injury.

Here is a step‐by‐step technique for lifting safely and preventing back injury:

  1. Stand close to the object you are going to lift.
  2. Place your feet shoulder‐width apart.
  3. Bend your knees and keep your back straight to squat to the level of the object.
  4. Test the weight of the load before lifting.
  5. Keep the load close to your body.
  6. Use the strength of your leg and arm muscles (not your back) to smoothly and slowly lift the load. Do not to jerk when lifting.
  7. Pivot to turn in the direction you want to move toward.
  8. Avoid twisting your body while turning and carrying the load.
  9. Bend your knees and slowly lower the load to its new location.
  10. Always ask for help if the load is too large, heavy or awkward
  • Get up and moving – Whether you are standing all day on an assembly line or sitting all day in your chair, prolonged static posture is your enemy. The healthy body can only tolerate staying in one position for about 20 minutes. The solution for this is simple, you need to stand, sit or stretch when you’ve been working in the same position for 20 minutes or more. If you’re work environment allows for it, take a short walk to give your back muscles a breather.  After returning to your work station, sit or stand differently for just a few moments and some of the tissue elasticity needed to protect the joints will return.

What do I do if I’ve hurt my back on the job?

If you’ve hurt your back on the job, it’s critical to inform your employer. Your workplace will need to document your injury if indeed you need to apply for workers’ compensation benefits.

The next step would be to see your chiropractor. When not treated, back pain may go away temporarily, but recent studies have shown it is most likely to return. Your chiropractor can provide more sustainable relief.  Chiropractic treatment for back pain is usually simple. Most commonly, it’s simply a matter of adjusting the lower lumbar vertebrae and pelvis to re-establish normal motion and position of your bones and joints.  If other treatment is required your chiropractor will ensure that you are fully informed of the treatment required to get you feeling better, moving better and living better.