Prevent Back Pain in the Workplace — Portland, OR

Written by Adian Martin on . Posted in Preventative' Posts

If you’re like many employees in Oregon, you can’t wait to end your shift at work. For many this is because you are happy to go home to your family, or to just have some free time. For others, this is because work is a pain in the neck or in the back.

Whether you are a production worker in Eastern Oregon, working the fields near McMinnville, at an office in Portland or Salem, or driving a truck across Oregon, you may overwork your back. You may try to shake off the stiffness, but you never quite escape the chronic pain.

According to statistics, one-half of working Americans have back pain each year. Back and neck pain are the most common reasons for missed work. As many as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their life. Nearly 60% of workers compensation cases result from overuse injuries, specifically related to the back and neck and body mechanics.

The spine is a combination of strong bones, flexible ligaments and tendons, large muscles and sensitive nerves. It can be incredibly strong yet highly flexible. Many of us take this combination of strength, structure and flexibility for granted in our everyday lives – until something goes wrong.

But if you want to avoid back and neck injury, take a few moments to think about how you do the simple things such as standing, sitting, or lifting.

Standing

When you standing at the checkout at a Safeway, New Seasons or Fred Meyers, helping people with groceries, how do you hold yourself? Do you keep your head high with your shoulders back? Or do you slump your shoulders forward with your weight on one leg?

Standing correctly improves blood flow and keeps you more alert. It gives the lungs more room to breathe, helping you feel fresh and more relaxed. 

To stand correctly, use the following tips as a guideline:

   Distribute most of your weight on the balls of your feet
   Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart
   Keep your knees straight, though slightly bent works for extended time periods
   Tuck in your stomach – do not tilt your pelvis forward or backward
   Roll your shoulders back so your arms hang naturally down your sides
   Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling
   Align your earlobes with the middle of your shoulders

If you have to stand for extended lengths of time, shift your weight from your toes to your heels rather than one foot to the other. When you shift your weight to one leg, it places excessive pressure on one side of your lower back and hip.

Sitting

When you type at your desk at Nike or The City of Portland, enterring data into your computer, how do you sit? Do you keep your back pressed against your chair? Or do you hunch over your keyboard and squint at the screen, like me?

We should sit correctly! Like standing correctly, it promotes good circulation and oxygen intake. Researchers observe that sitting up straight makes it easier to have positive thoughts and memories, while poor posture can increase feelings of depression and fatigue.

To sit correctly, keep the following in mind:

   Keep your feet flat on the floor (or on a footrest if they don’t reach)
   Adjust your ankles so they rest in front of your knees (avoid crossing your legs)
   Keep your knees level with (or slightly below) your hips
   Scoot deeper into your chair until your buttocks touches the back of it
   Draw up your spine so it rests comfortably against the chair (you may need lumbar
   support or a backrest)
   Relax your shoulders down, but keep them pulled back to maintain the curve of          your spine
   Distribute your weight evenly on both hips
   Keep your arms parallel to the ground

Also, try to avoid sitting in the same position for too long. Aim to take a break every 30 minutes or so to stretch and relax your muscles.

Lifting

When you grab heavy boxes at Walmart in Hermiston, or you are packing seafood at Pacific Seafood or books at Powells in Portland, how do you support the weight? Do you keep it close to you? Or do you bend and reach letting your back do all the work?

Many workplace injuries occur because we do not use proper posture when lifting. Incorrect lifting places unnecessary stress on the joints and muscles of the back.

Before you lift or carry heavy things at work, double-check your posture:

   Keep your chest forward to maintain a straight back
   Bend at the hips, not just the knees
   Lead with the hips rather than the shoulders
   Hold the weight close to the body (the further away from your center, the more            force the object exhibits) Ensure you have a good grip before lifting

Remember your limitations as you lift. You should never try to lift more than you can handle, so ask for help or equipment before lifting too much on your own. If your work requires you to lift or carry things regularly, ask for training in lifting techniques and health and safety procedures.

Do You Have Chronic Back Pain?

Even if you use good posture and lift correctly, you can still get back pain. Repetitive motions and activities may simply wear you out, causing repetitive use injury. 

If you have back pain that may be from work, don’t just work through the pain. Instead, see your doctor. Also, if you have questions about your pain and worker’s compensation call us to discuss it free of charge.