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4 Ways To Fight Lower Back Strains, Your #1 Cause Of Workplace Injuries

Back injuries are confusing all round because they are so complex! From studying the causes to knowing how to tackle them…Nothing is simple. Take for example the latest Workcover figures just released, they list “back” conditions as the number one cause of musculoskeletal injuries coming in at 38%. But they don’t differentiate between upper and lower back, so we have to estimate and look at all the research to work it out…COMPLEX right? But it’s important to have a handle on it because it’s an area you can decrease your injury rates significantly. So I’ll step you through the maze.

Clinically with our onsite physio stats, we see that lower back injuries make up between 20 and 30% of musculoskeletal injuries. 2016 research out of the US found the same, “one in five work injuries or illnesses involve the lower back.”(1) In fact they are the second most common reason for time off work behind the common cold! 80% of these injuries are associated with material handling tasks which is huge.

So What Is The Cause?

Traditional safety models look at the cause of back pain as repeated lifting, sudden movements, whole body vibration, twisting under load or bending over time. Very true, but that stuff happens everywhere and it’s only half the problem. Australian Government statistics estimate that 70-90% of us will have lower back pain at some point during life. So from a physio perspective, we see the cause as all the issues listed above PLUS muscle imbalances, poor technique over an entire life, parts of the back that get tight and STOP moving, certain muscles switch off and get weak then FINALLY, one day enough is enough and bingo…you’ve got a recordable injury.

So What Can You Do To Help?

Well the same stuff happens to our athletes and we show them the risk factors and give them skills to link in and fill the gaps in strength, get stiff parts of the back moving and teach them how to protect themselves with technique while also decreasing load. None of this is hard to learn but workplaces often don’t have the skills to implement the effective strategies to protect their people. Here are four strategies to look at when you’re getting started.

1) Get Your Design Controls Set Up Right

One of the things we see all the time is workplaces teaching their staff to sit with hips at 90 degrees (assuming ‘up straight’ is good). It’s a back killer, because it shortens hip flexors. We tore up one of our client’s desk setup sheets last week and gave them ours. Open the hip angle to 100 or 110 degrees. When you think about machinery operators and truck drivers, sitting all day, having the third highest risk of serious injury(2) and the highest incidence of lower back issues, no wonder! Got to get our design controls right!

2) Train Staff To Set Their Core (Deepest Abs)

I was one of the original guinea pigs for this research 20 years ago (showing my age). We use it for our runners all the time and you can feel the difference when you relax, the body sinks and the force going through back and legs increases straight away. You don’t have to get your staff to run! But if you can demonstrate the difference your people will take notice.

3) Show Them How To Use Their Butt!

The best back care programs now get the butt muscles (glutei) firing to protect the lumbar spine while lifting. We teach this to people with disc issues and lower back stuff in the clinic. But why wait for an injury? It’s so easy to do at work, but also at home while you bend to shave or put makeup on, do the dishes, whatever. Those who have a sensitive back will thank you for it and if they don’t, at least they will know how to help themselves straight away if anything comes up.

4) Use Movement

The fourth simple strategy comes from your SSTM® Injury Prevention toolkit, MOVE. Movement will help ease tension and it works very well for lower backs. Quick warning…The rule with doing anything practical, even very gentle is comfy and pain-free at all times! Start very small. Obviously, if you have had a past injury, surgery, illness or current injury always check with doc before you start any program.

I have put a link video here so Tamara can show you through. She progresses to larger movements but remember you don’t have to progress. Comfy at all times…Tiny movements work just as well!

The key with preventing injuries, is to work in conjunction with your higher level controls to teach people simple techniques to ease tension, protect and decrease load through the area. To do that you need a plan from on boarding, desk setups, training and affordable long term maintenance. You can do a lot yourself too. To discuss your specific situation and priority goals, contact us at paul@workinjuryfree.com.au to go through strategy.

References:

  • Oklahoma State University (2016) U.S. Department of Labor, Back Injuries – The Nation’s #1 Workplace Safety Problem.
  • Australian Workers’ Comensation Statistics (2016-2017)

Paul Trevethan

Physio – Director Work Injury Free

Remember “Injury Prevention is a Way of Life”.

Ask Me Your Questions

If you have anybody or injury questions send them through to me at paul@workinjuryfree.com.au and I’ll answer them here so everyone can benefit. If you want to talk specifics feel free to call and we can chat it through privately.

To contact us email: paul@workinjuryfree.com.au or call 07 3847 8040

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