The best ways to protect your back in the workplace
For many people, the most common cause for back pain and joint pain is their work. While lots of people find their job a pain in the neck, there’s a good proportion for whom that’s just too literal. In fact, over 10 million working days were lost due to work-related back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders in the UK alone in 2014.
The most common causes for work-related back pain are strained muscles or ligaments, wear and tear, bad posture and stress, and most of us will have some back pain at some point. Usually, it’s not serious, and the pain clears up (although that can take up to 6 weeks).
But you want to do all you can to take preventative measures at work – keeping you away from the osteopath (though we’re always happy to see you). In the modern workplace, that’s not always possible – sitting badly in front of a computer for hours on end is storing up trouble. The body can tolerate being in one position for only a short period of time before you feel the need to adjust.
So take a good look at your workstation. The factors that can affect your back include:
- The position of your seat
- The position of the computer screen
- The height of the chair
- The position of the keyboard
- The position (and the way you use) the mouse
- The position of the rest of your kit on the desk.
If you work in an office and use a computer, you can avoid injury by sitting in the right position and arranging your desk correctly. It’s mostly common sense, but if you’re not sure about your seating position and workstation, ask your manager to arrange a workplace assessment for you.
Good posture when sitting at a desk can help prevent RSI, which is a cause of back pain. Sit up straight and make sure that your lower back is supported.
By law, workstation chairs must be stable. The standard office chair has five legs in a star shape and the seat height must be adjustable, and the back rest must be adjustable in height and tilt. Ideally, the back rest should move independently of the seat to allow a comfortable position.
When you’re sitting, your thighs should be at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down.
If your chair is properly adjusted, your feet should be firmly on the floor, but if it’s more comfortable, use a footrest. The basic rule is to plant your feet on the floor and support your back.
But no matter how good you work station, you should also take regular breaks from your desk, adjust your posture plenty of times, vary your activities and sit up straight. You should take lots of short breaks (which are better than fewer and longer breaks), and stretch out a little when you do so, and do jobs which take you away from the desk – make yourself popular and do the tea run!
More generally, your lifestyle will have an effect, so exercise regularly and lose any excess weight.
Away from the desk, it’s heavy lifting that causes the most problems. They can happen inside the office environment or on the building site – the rules are the same:
- Make sure you’re physically capable of lifting the weight. Don’t show off.
- Keep the load close to your waist
- Keep your back as straight as possible
- Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways
- Keep your head up
- Always push, don’t pull, a really heavy object
So take sensible precautions and think about your keeping your body working smoothly while you’re at work. We’re always pleased to see you, but you can do some of our work for us.
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