Back problems are commonplace in society. It is important to ask if there might be certain risk factors for back injury in your life that can be mitigated or avoided, if possible. While we cannot pick our genetic make-up or even our current occupation (for most of us), how we interact with our daily tasks can be the difference between disabling pain and minor aches.
Some of the most strenuous jobs are those tied to the construction industry. Concrete-reinforcement workers and carpenters have more back pain than what is typically seen in office workers. But office workers can be a greater risk for carpal tunnel symptoms. Each of these jobs has unique characteristics that make affect certain locations of the spine and body more so than others.
Lifting heavy weights (e.g. concrete, lumber), especially in awkward positions, makes the disks in the low back vulnerable to the load, which can exceed the strength of the ligaments. This is called a sprain, and in severe cases the disk can bulge or herniate. If the worker can use good ergonomics (e.g. symmetrical lifting), then the disk can more safely resist the load. It is also known that the spine is stiffer in the morning, and develops higher pressures in the disk when a worker lifts at this time of day. Taking this into account, it may be safer to do more light lifting in the early morning. In almost every case, one should never lift anything, even a light object, with a twisting motion as it makes the spine more susceptible to injury. Getting a buddy to help with a lift is a solution that many do not try.
Sitting for prolonged periods can also be damaging to the spine. First, there is the inactivity, which causes muscles to become weak. The spine is designed for movement, especially walking. An apple a day is good, but a walk a day is better. Sitting also causes increased pressure in the disks of the low back. If you add vibration (e.g. bus drivers), the sitting seems to be much worse. An anti-vibration seat, frequent walk breaks, along with a chair that provides proper support, are the main counter measures one can implement.
Each job has its own unique ergonomic characteristics and should be assessed accordingly. Proper spinal posture while working is a key to overall good health and is the best prevention for back injury.
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