In the office, much health and safety public attention is focused on manual labor in the field. However, significant numbers - on average 75 percent - of the workforce in the oil and gas industry, for example, have desk jobs. In these situations, workstation ergonomics, working style (repetition, twisting, etc.), posture and stress can cause musculoskeletal disorders, including lower back pain. There are frequent opportunities throughout the day, whether you work in the field or at the desk, which can impact the health and safety of your back:
- Awkward and Bad Postures
- Frequent Heavy Lifting
Many jobs can be modified to reduce impact on the spine and lower back. Prevention is the key to staying safe on the job site and in the workplace.
Prevent lower back pain
- Stay in shape - Even with a physical job, exercise, especially core and lower back exercises, can prevent lower back pain.
- Good posture - Good posture relaxes muscles and requires minimum balance. When standing, slightly elevate one foot if possible. When seated, leave feet flat on the floor and use a chair with back support or a small pillow or rolled towel at the base of your back.
- Heavy lifting - Let the legs take the brunt of the weight and keep items close to your body. If the item is too heavy, use the buddy system to lift it.
- Listen to your body - Your body is a great indicator when things are wrong. If you are static for about 15 minutes, move around and stretch. If you are in pain, stop and modify the task.
- Stay sane - Stress has physical symptoms on your body and makes you prone to injury. Use coping mechanisms like deep breathing, walking or venting to a trusted friend.
If the damage is done
Know the difference between an annoyance and a serious issue. Use the following checks to determine if you should see a doctor about your lower back pain:
- Extended lower back pain - If the persistent pain extends down your leg and is severe, something could be compressing a nerve.
- Increasing pain - If your lower back pain increases when you bend over or raise your leg, a disc could be irritating a nerve.
- Falling - A recent fall could cause damage to your spine.
- Significant, long-term pain - Often pain will go away with simple treatment, but if it persists more than three weeks, see a doctor.
- Pain at night - If the pain becomes worse when you rest or wakes you up at night and is accompanied by a fever, there could be an infection.
- Persistent bladder/bowel problems - While they can be caused by many things, spine problems could be the culprit.
- Numbness or weakness while walking - This could be caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal. It is called spinal stenosis.
As always, if you have any questions or are experiencing the symptoms, please seek medical help.
Douglas Won, MD, is a board-certified and fellowship-trained spine surgeon who specializes in endoscopic laser and minimally invasive spine surgery and has been chosen as one of "America's Top Orthopedist/Spine Surgeons" in 2009 by Research Consumers' Council of America. Dr. Won, MD, uses cutting-edge surgical techniques to avoid traditional open back and neck fusion surgeries whenever possible. Dr. Won was the first surgeon in Texas to perform endoscopic laser spine surgery with a 3mm incision.
Michael Rimlawi, MD, is a board-certified and fellowship-trained spine surgeon. Throughout his career, Dr. Rimlawi has been at the forefront in leading innovations related to minimally invasive surgery, as he was the first surgeon in Texas to perform the newest micro-endoscopic (camera assisted) spine surgery and was the first surgeon in the country to perform the Globus Minimally Invasive XLIF procedure. Dr. Rimlawi is active in numerous spine organizations, including The North American Spine Society, and he serves as a scientific advisor to numerous international spine technology companies. He is most honored to have been selected for the 2008 patients' choice award.