Strategies Reduce Employee Stress, Address Work-Related Back Pain
In addition, Duke University's medical center found that health care expenditures incurred by people with back pain total more than $90 billion annually.
The National Athletic Trainers' Association issued a 10-step guide to help individuals with back pain reduce body stress and improve their condition and quality of life.
"The human body is an incredible machine that adapts to the stresses we give it every day," said Darrell Barnes, certified athletic trainer and performance medical coordinator at St. Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis. "Stresses such as poor posture, unusual movement or activities, or even a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor mechanics and pain. Disability from back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost work time."
To help employees prevent and reduce back pain, NATA recommended these 10 strategies:
1. Identify negative stresses. Everybody has physical limitations that can lead to body imbalances, so it's important to identify problematic areas. For example, examine your sitting/standing posture. Do you complain that your muscles "feel tight" or weak? Do you use poor mechanics when lifting heavy items? Are you putting unusual stress on the back with certain activities and lifting? Learning correct lifting techniques and strengthening your back can help to alleviate pain.
2. Make yourself mobile. Poor posture and muscle stiffness decrease the body's ability to move freely, which can lead to injury or pain. According to the NATA, your employees can increase mobility with daily stretches or activities that increase flexibility and get the body moving in different directions. Encourage employees to try yoga, tai chi, swimming or pilates to keep them limber.
3. Increase strength. It's important to strengthen the muscles to improve overall balance and flexibility. This will reduce stress on the back. According to the NATA, exercises should involve the whole body -- especially the core muscles of the stomach, back, hips and pelvis. At the same time, employees should be encouraged to strengthen the legs and shoulders. This will help them more easily squat, lift and carry heavy items without overworking or injuring their backs.
4. Encourage aerobic exercise. Performing physical activities -- such as walking, swimming and running -- for at least 20 minutes three times a week will enable employees to increase their muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Aerobic activities will also improve blood flow to the spine and help employees decrease daily stress. However, make sure your workouts aren't too rigorous. Muscle fibers can get torn with each heavy workout. An intense workout program may overload the muscles beyond their capacity and place joints and ligaments at risk.
"If you are participating in any fitness routines or general activity and feel any twinges of back pain, you should stop immediately and consult your physician," Barnes said.
5. Pay attention to posture. Static postures can be detrimental to your back. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employees must understand the concept of neutral body positioning. This is a comfortable working posture in which the joints are naturally aligned. Working with the body in a neutral position reduces stress and strain on the muscles, tendons and skeletal system and reduces your risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder or back pain.
The NATA recommended employees try not to sit or drive for long periods of time. Encourage employees to get up every 15 to 30 minutes and move around or stretch to increase mobility. When seated, always remember to keep your hips and knees at right angles to one another and find a chair with adequate lumbar (lower back) support.
6. Stand up straight. While standing, be sure to stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward and stomach tight. Avoid standing in the same position for too long. Use your legs -- rather than your back -- when pushing or pulling heavy loads and other items.
7. Use proper lifting mechanics. When lifting objects from a position below your waist, use a wide stance and slightly bend at your hips and knees. Tighten your stomach as you lift, and keep your back as flat as possible. Do not arch or bend. When carrying heavy objects, keep them as close to your body as you can. Avoid carrying objects on only one side of your body.
8. Get a good night's sleep. Select a firm mattress and box spring that does not sag. Try to sleep in a position that allows you to maintain the natural curve in your back.
9. Warm up before physical activity. Engage in a low impact activity before starting a shift, the same warm-up routine as you would use before playing sports or exercising. Increasing muscle temperature and mobility will decrease the chance of injury. Stretching can be a good way to warm up the muscles.
10. Improve your lifestyle. Taking steps to improve your health will decrease the chance of back pain. Obesity and smoking have been found to increase the incidence of back pain.
March 23, 2009
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