Are you suffering from back pain caused or exacerbated due to your work? You’re not alone. Back pain is extremely common. In fact, up to 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point in their life, and almost 60% of workers’ compensation cases result from overuse injuries that harm the neck and back.
What comes to mind when you think of work-related back pain? You might think of labor-intensive jobs such as contracting, professional moving, mining, etc. Jobs that require intensive labor and heavy lifting can all lead to back pain as a result of continuous strain and injury. But you don’t have to work in a “physically demanding” job in order to experience work-related back pain. Office workers, cashiers, dental hygienists, truck drivers, and others in less active jobs can also suffer from chronic back pain as a result of their workplace habits. While intense physical activity can lead to pain, so can repetitive movements, poor posture, and a lack of physical activity.
No matter the demands of your job, there are many small ways you can change your daily habits to prevent and improve back pain even without medical treatment.
Upper vs Lower Back Pain
Not all back pain is the same. The type, intensity, and location of the pain will vary from person to person depending on various factors. Back pain can occur for a number of reasons, and understanding the type of back pain you’re experiencing is one of the first steps in learning to improve and prevent pain in the future.
For example, upper back pain can be caused by overworked muscles, blunt-force injury, and daily lifestyle factors such as poor posture or repetitive movements like lifting heavy objects. In many cases, people who suffer from upper back pain, especially if it is caused by daily behaviors, will also experience pain in the neck and shoulders.
Lower back pain is slightly more common. This is in part because it’s often a result of age-related factors, particularly in those over 40. But it can also occur in younger individuals as well, often as a result of daily behaviors. This is especially common for people with demanding jobs that require regular physical labor. In some instances, lower back pain can also be the result of nerve damage. In these cases, it’s common to also experience some discomfort or tingling in the legs and feet.
Many people also experience middle back pain. While this is not as common as upper or lower back pain (because this area isn’t used as much when performing daily tasks), pain from the lower or upper back can reverberate to the middle, and it can also be caused by injury or repetitive strain.
How to Prevent Back Pain at Work
Back pain can be debilitating and result in serious damage down the line if left untreated. Even if your back pain is the result of an injury, there are often steps you can take to prevent further damage and limit discomfort. Here are six simple ways you can prevent back pain in the workplace:
1. Work on your Posture
Poor posture is one of the most common causes of neck and back pain, especially for workers in sedentary jobs that require extended amounts of time sitting or standing in one place, such as cashier or desk jobs.
If you’re sitting at a desk all day, it’s easy to slouch over your computer or phone. Being mindful of your posture can go a long way to prevent chronic back and neck pain. Sitting for long periods of time puts consistent stress on the discs and muscles in your back, leading to discomfort. Our posture even has an effect on our mental health. Poor posture leads to feelings of depression and fatigue, while proper posture promotes positive thinking.
2. Limit Smoking and Alcohol
It’s no secret that smoking and drinking alcohol aren’t great for your general health. But did you know that both of these habits have a direct link to back pain? In fact, smokers are three times more likely to experience back pain than non-smokers. While nicotine can temporarily act as a pain reducer, it ultimately worsens long-term pain and leaves your body at greater risk of injury. Smoking negatively impacts blood flow (including to your spinal disks) and decreases oxygen, leading to back pain that can be hard to combat.
Alcohol can have a similar effect. While it can be relaxing in the moment, excessive alcohol intake can result in inflammation to the joints and dehydration, which leaves you more vulnerable to injury and can cause general pain, particularly in the lower back.
3. Exercise Regularly
When people experience pain of any kind, their first instinct might be to lie down and avoid physical activity, but moving your body may actually be exactly what you need. Regular exercise can be beneficial for those suffering with back pain, particularly movements that focus on increasing core and shoulder strength.
But you don’t have to have an intensive workout routine to reap benefits. Even simple stretching and gentle yoga can do wonders for your general health and can reduce back pain with consistency. Here are some simple stretches to prevent and improve back pain.
4. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Back pain is especially common for people that are overweight or obese. More weight on your body naturally puts more stress on your joints and muscles. If you’re carrying around extra weight, that means that your body and your joints have to work extra hard to perform everyday tasks. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most reliable ways to prevent back pain and preserve your general health.
5. Take Breaks
While we all want to excel at our jobs and show that we’re putting in the work, part of performing well also means taking regular breaks. You don’t have to take significant time away from your job. Simply taking frequent, 30-second breaks to stretch, get up and walk around, or relax your muscles can significantly reduce the strain on your back and neck.
You can also limit stress by avoiding repetitive tasks and movements. Of course, many jobs will require certain tasks that you can’t avoid. But if you are able to break these up throughout the day or change up your technique, this can be very helpful.
6. Eat a Healthy Diet
We know that eating a healthy diet is great for your health on every level, and the type of foods you eat can have a major impact on your back. If you’re looking to improve back pain, try to avoid foods that increase inflammation such as:
- Red meats
- Sugary and processed foods
- Fried foods
- Refined carbs like those in white bread and pasta
Instead, lean into anti-inflammatory foods filled with vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Omega-3 rich fish like tuna and salmon
- Whole grains
- Foods that are high in calcium
Of course, you don’t have to cut out all your favorite foods to prevent back pain. But making small changes to improve your diet will help you both in terms of your back pain and your overall health.
Do You Have Back Pain Injury? We’re Here to Help
If you’re suffering from back pain that you believe was caused by your workplace, you might be eligible to file a worker’s compensation claim. The experienced and compassionate attorneys at Ransom, Gilbertson, Martin, & Ratliff, LLP are ready to help you get the compensation you deserve.
Contact us today to get a free consultation so we can help you win your case and get you back to living your best life.