Interventional Pain Management Specialist Dr. Kaliq Chang with Atlantic Spine Center offers tips to make the job easier on the back

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‘Put your back into it’ not best advice for the workplace

Dr. Kaliq Chang

Occupation is often a primary contributing factor in development of acute, even chronic, lower back pain.

“Put your back into it!” It’s a common idiom for encouraging best efforts but is not the ideal advice in the workplace where putting your back into it can prove downright painful, says Kaliq Chang MD, of the New Jersey-based Atlantic Spine Center.

In fact, occupation is often a primary contributing factor in development of acute, even chronic, lower back pain, which affects between six and eight of every 10 adults in the United States, is the leading cause of disability worldwide and represents one of the most common reasons why employees miss work, says Dr. Chang.

He blames many back problems on job-related biomechanics, including repetitive lifting, bending, twisting and pulling and forceful exertion that occur in industries like construction, plumbing, carpentry, metal and heating/air-conditioning work, and landscaping.

Research published just a few years ago in Arthritis Care & Research indicated that workers who are required to perform manual tasks in awkward positions are up to eight times more likely to develop back pain. Similar studies also have shown a link between back pain and prolonged hours seated at a desk; driving a truck, bus or taxi; or standing without break while teaching classes, caring for hospitalized and nursing home patients, performing surgery, manning a cash register or serving customers in stores and restaurants.

“The simple act of sitting or standing is not alone risky for the back. But, when these functions occur for extended periods with poor posture – like hunching over a computer in a chair without adequate support, bending over a cash register or shifting weight from one leg to another while standing, then the resulting muscular and spinal imbalances and stress can lead to lower back pain,” Dr. Chang explains.

In fact, scientists postulate that awkward seating posture results in higher intradiscal pressure on the spine. Constantly bending forward, for example, can compress the spinal discs in the lower back, eventually pushing them out of position and forcing them to press on nearby nerves.

“The back and spine compose an amazing, but complicated structure of overlapping ligaments holding the vertebrae in place, tendons that tie muscles to the spine, and an array of nerves emanating from the spinal column and controlling body movements,” says Dr. Chang. “The lumbar region, or lower back, supports most of the upper body weight. That’s why even minor problems affecting this system – like muscle sprains or ligament tears due to the cumulative effects of exertion, awkward biomechanics, fatigue and poor posture – can result in serious, debilitating pain.”

Although causes of lower back issues are what clinicians call multi-factorial, the pain often resolves on its own within a matter of days or a few weeks. Should the problem persist for more than a month or two, pain can become chronic. Lower back pain is the driver for an estimated 2.6 million costly, annual visits to hospital emergency departments, Dr. Chang says.

So, what can be done to prevent work from becoming truly a pain in the back?

Employers have become more proactive in creating ergonomic work environments; providing correct tools and resources to foster healthy, on-the-job activities; and developing mandatory employee educational programs, such as instruction in proper lifting techniques, Dr. Chang says.

Workers, though, also have a personal responsibility to minimize risks. Dr. Chang offers these tips to help make the job a bit easier on the back:

  •     Rearrange your work station. Properly position the computer monitor, keyboard and mouse so that they are at appropriate height and within comfortable reach.
  •     Consider a standing desk which have proven to be helpful for people with back pain.
  •     Pay attention to posture. Don’t slouch or hunch in the chair. Sit up straight.
  •     At least once every 30 minutes, stand up from the desk, stretch, and take a quick minute-or-two break.
  •     When lifting or bending, follow company instructions about proper techniques. Use the resources an employer has provided to make work easier. Whenever possible, push rather than pull heavy loads.
  •     Try modifying repetitive activities by using a different hand or changing position.
  •     Engage in light exercise; walk around periodically.
  •     Aggravating back problems in the workplace are employee lifestyle factors, including obesity, smoking, poor diet and sedentary habits, Dr. Chang says.
  •     “If you want a healthy back, lose the weight, stop smoking, eat more nutritiously and, above all, get off the couch at home and exercise.”

Atlantic Spine Center is a nationally recognized leader for endoscopic spine surgery with several locations in NJ and NYC. http://www.atlanticspinecenter.com, http://www.atlanticspinecenter.nyc

Kaliq Chang, MD, is an interventional pain management specialist board-certified in anesthesiology at Atlantic Spine Center.

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Melissa Chefec
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