Back Care At Work
Cumulative trauma of poor posture, with shoulders stooped forward, results in a stiff thoracic spine â€“ which contributed to a frequent dull ache in the back. Occasionally, muscles surrounding this area of the spine will go into spasms, which is the body’s way of trying to protect the spine and as a result causes chronic pain. It’s like getting cramp in your back, where the muscles grip the joints together, and is excruciatingly painful.
This problem is very common â€“ it is not caused by an old sporting injury or by lifting something in an awkward position which is what most people think when back pain occurs. During the years you spend stooped at your desk, doing the best for your career, you are actually doing the worst for your spine. Locking each joint into the one below with the facets (the two pegs on each vertebrae). These facets normally provide a range of movement to the back, so if they become locked together, the discs do not receive a blood supply or nutrition and arthritic change or premature ageing is likely to develop.
The common age of patients undergoing a herniated disc operation is 40 and signs of disc deterioration are appearing as early as the age of 20. The incidence of back problems among children is also on the increase.
Common back problems associated with office based jobs
The most common form of spinal injury and back pain can be attributed to sedentary lifestyles. Hunched, with shoulders leaning forward, in a car, over a desk, at your computer, or in front of the TV â€“ all of these postures increase the risk of injury and back pain over time.
The wrong type of seating can also cause back pain. For example, a flat seat or one with a negative incline (the seat of the chair leaning backwards) tilts the pelvis backwards and flattens the inward curve of the lumbar spine â€“ the base of the spine. To achieve the correct sitting posture, office workers need a chair which allows the seat to be tilted forward by 5-15 degrees. This position ensures that the curve in the lumbar spine is maintained while you are seated, because the pelvis is rotated forwards.
Other postures can be a pain in the neck for office workers, when people are continuously looking down at work on their desk or reading on a flat surface. The head weighs approximately one stone or 14 pounds and places considerable pressure on the neck and back muscles when hung forward for long periods of time. The optimum angle for working surfaces for reading or writing is 25Â°. When working at a computer, the optimum height for the monitor is with the top of the monitor at eye level.
For computer users, however, the most common complaint is sore wrists or Repetitive Strain Injury. Contrary to the name of the condition, damage to the wrists is not caused by repetitive motions but by the lack of movement when the wrists are held in a static position. When typing on a keyboard or using a mouse it is recommended that users take a five second pause every five minutes and a rest break once every hour. A rest break is a break away from the desk, to get up and walk around and stretch any static muscles. A new software product, Workpace, which allows computer users to schedule regular breaks, is attracting widespread interest from employers.
About half of the people seen in an industrial situation were suffering from backaches and pains. They were often given weeks off work and if the problem wasn’t serious, they received no specific treatment. That’s no good for the company.
Teaching the workforce how to reach, lift, apply force, bend and avoid stretching, plus self-help and remedial exercises on-site, can reap huge rewards. It alleviates many problems and keeps employees on the job, happy, well motivated and free from pain. Back pain is both unnecessary and expensive while prevention is considerably more cost effective than cure.
Industry and commerce are quickly reaching the same conclusions as sportsmen and women. A growing number of companies are providing posture supporting products and back care programmes for their employees. The measurable results are higher productivity, improved morale and reduced absenteeism. They feel that their money is being well spent and it’s not hard to see why.
Common back problems associated with manual handling jobs
There are certain manual handling jobs which are more likely to put you in an unnatural posture and increase the risk of injury. For instance, laying ground pipe work, painting ceilings or bending over a car bonnet to check an engine.
By carrying out a risk assessment, it is possible to identify which jobs repeatedly take you into a position where, for instance, you are bending forward. This position is known as sustained forward flexion. If you add weight or loading to that bended position the risks of back injury are increased. It is important to avoid putting weight in hands while in the forward flexion position and any equipment or tools used in this position should be as light as possible.
Methods of reducing the risk of injury when you have a job with sustained forward flexion include job rotation. This means that individuals will only be doing jobs which require them to lean forward for short periods, rather than all day. Rest Pause Gymnastics is also encouraged, which requires stretching the back into the opposite position from that which you have been bending.
Alternatively, there are ergonomically designed belts, which you can wear to support the muscles around the spine. The elasticated straps mimic human musculature and help to develop core strength. A properly fitted back support can lift weight from the spine by up to 25%. The Work S’port is unique in being anchored firmly and comfortably into position with a strap that threads easily through the belt loops to keep the support from riding up.
Jobs that require the head to be tilted backwards increase the risk of neck injury. This position is known as full extension. For example, painters and decorators who work on a ceiling or site workers, with the added weight of the safety helmet, who are required to look upwards for their jobs put their neck under strain. Job rotation is a solution to this problem, or if this cannot be done, regular breaks are recommended with head rotations to provide a full stretch to neck muscles.
Finally, the third most common manual handling work position which increases the risk of injury, is when you are working with your hands above your shoulders. Reaching up to tall machines or up to high shelves can be problematic. The result is a decrease in blood supply to the upper limb. The tendons in the shoulder are very delicate and persistent static work will put these tendons under strain. Most people also experience discomfort and a dull ache in the upper back muscles as a result of holding their arms up in the air for long periods of time.
Case Study: Graham Thorpe, batsman for the England cricket team
World-class sportsmen and women are regarded as the image of health and fitness. However, athletes also suffer setbacks to their career through injury. A back injury may have prematurely ended Graham Thorpe’s winter tour in the West Indies in 1997-1998, but not before he gamely returned to the crease during the fifth test in Barbados, delighting cricket fans with his sixth century for England. How did he do it?
It takes courage, as well as superb technique to perform world-class cricket whilst suffering from a painful injury. Back injuries are an enduring threat to cricketers, particularly during an arduous test series, which gives the players little time to rest. The bending and twisting needed to perform at the highest level puts a lot of stress and strain on the lower back; 90% of all back injuries occur at the base of the spine.
Thorpe was at the crease for over 5 hours as he notched up a century. He is the first to admit that this feat of endurance was made possible by a back support garment, S’port Max. S’port Max is anchored firmly and comfortably into position with integral underpants, preventing riding up or other movement. It is designed to stabilise the back, supporting the spine, without restricting mobility.
Thorpe explains: “The abandoned first test meant that all the players were submitted to a punishing schedule in order to complete the series. In the fifth test, I was 5 not out before lunch, when the muscles in my lower back went into painful spasm. The pain was so acute that I couldn’t resume after lunch so Jack Russell went in.
“However, after some intensive work by Wayne Morton, our team physiotherapist and with the added support of my S’port Max to stabilise my spine, I was able to come back to the crease at the fall of the next wicket â€“ and build on my partnership with Mark Ramprakash, with us both going on to score centuries.”
Work-related injuries are going to happen whether on the cricket field, in the factory or in the office. Both cricket, manual work and office work put a lot of stress on the back and preventative behaviour is critical in avoiding long-term back problems. Adopting the right posture and knowing how to perform physical tasks like keyboard work, lifting, or moving work pieces, are as important on the shop floor or in the office as they are at the wicket.
The biggest challenge is to convince people who are at most risk of back and neck problems to follow simple guidelines on how to maintain a healthy back. Unfortunately, far too many people will only take preventative measures to look after their backs once a problem occurs. It is the healthy people with no evidence of back problems that are at greatest risk. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.