Show Some Backbone: How You Can Support Spine Health in the Workplace
Michael D. Shaw
Humans have monkey spines. While we swiftly evolved sophisticated hands and enormous brains, our backs never caught up to our upright stance. Thus, we still boast the s-curved spine of beasts that walk on four legs, and thus, we are all exceedingly susceptible to back pain.
Unfortunately, modern working environments tend to do little to alleviate the risk of back injury. Unergonomic office chairs place undue stress on several areas of the spine, and physically demanding jobs rarely teach proper walking, standing, and lifting techniques to keep the spine safe. As a result, more than 80 percent of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives, and about 25 percent of those endure chronic pain related to their spine.
At best, pain inhibits productivity; at worst, it keeps workers out of a job. If you want your workforce to be strong, useful, and pain-free, you must support spine health in your workplace. Here’s how:
Learn About Common Causes of Back Pain
There are two situations that often result in back pain: haste and complacency. When a worker is under a tight deadline to accomplish a task, they will often feel rushed, which results in agitation and frustration which pushes correct back posture to the back of their mind. Similarly, when a worker performs the same tasks day in and day out, they may become desensitized to the twisting and bending of their spine. In both cases, workers are either unaware or dismissive of the risks of improper posture and positioning, and either in one event or over time, they will develop back pain.
According to Mayo Clinic, there are three workplace factors that will cause debilitating back pain, including:
- Force. Because your back is structured in a delicate s-curve, too much force can wrench it out of position. Force is applied by lifting or moving heavy objects, and injuries occur when these forces are applied haphazardly, such as by using improper technique, pushing one’s limits, or being exhausted.
- Repetition. The spine is capable of a wide array of movements – but not constantly. Repetitive movements, especially those that require the spine to rotate, produce greater wear and tear on the tissues around the spine, resulting in excessive back pain.
- Inactivity. Often, injury occurs because you allow your spine to become weak. Sedentary workers, like those in offices or long-distance driving, typically develop poor posture that involves slouching, stooping, and enduring prolonged periods in one position. Seats with inadequate support compound the problem, forcing the spine into an unnatural c-shape that causes pain.
Understand the Challenges of Working With Pain
Back pain is among the most common medical problems in the United States, afflicting about a quarter of adults once every three months. Yet, few people who suffer back pain admit it, especially to their employer; most are concerned about not having their pain taken seriously and losing their current position. Unfortunately, this motivates most back pain sufferers to attempt to continue working in the same conditions, exerting the same efforts as before, without alerting anyone to their pain or needs. This often worsens their condition, increasing their pain and discomfort and further limiting their ability to complete tasks.
Suffering in silence hardly helps workers be the most productive they can be. More often, it ensures lifelong disability that hinders their ability to produce good work. Further, because back pain is so common, employers can hardly dismiss everyone suffering from spine-related discomfort. Instead, you should encourage openness regarding spine health and help your employees find solutions to their pain, so your business will boast high morale and productivity.
Provide Solutions to Help Workers Stay Productive
First, to help those workers already suffering from back pain, you should amass a few pain management options to address the most immediate symptom of their injury. Without exception, this means offering insurance packages that include pain management centers and pain-relieving medications. After all, you cannot be certain that your employee is experiencing pain without a diagnosis and treatment plan from a qualified physician. Any workers that require time off work to recover should be granted that time, and you should keep in contact with suffering employees and better understand their needs.
Then, you can begin modifying your workplace to address possible causes of spine injury of discomfort. You should perform risk assessments and take reasonable measures to reduce that risk, so fewer employees are debilitated at work. Additionally, you must make reasonable adjustments to your workplace to accommodate disabled workers, thanks to the Equality Act of 2010. With proper training, tools, and employer support, you might be able to end back pain in your workplace.
About the Author
Michael D. Shaw is a columnist, biochemist and protégée of the late Willard Libby, the 1960 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He writes about a variety of subjects including wellness, health care, and business leadership.