Back pain in the workplace is a common problem. From nursing and construction, to factory work and even desk-based roles, our backs are always being pushed, pulled and tweaked, whatever our job.
Although most back pain is not medically serious, it can contribute to absences, poor concentration and even result in people not being able to complete their normal work tasks. That’s why, as an employer, it’s incredibly important to do what you can to prevent unnecessary back strain among your team.
Causes of back pain
Some work tasks can cause back pain or even make existing pain worse. And it doesn’t always happen quickly, often worsening over a period of months, or even years.
The main three causes of back pain are:
- Such as lifting or moving heavy, bulky objects, carrying loads awkwardly, or pushing, pulling or dragging hefty loads.
- Repeating certain movements, especially those that involve stooping, twisting, reaching or rotating your spine.
- Staying in one position for a long time, maintaining poor posture and sitting all day with inadequate back support.
Protecting your workforce
By understanding what causes back pain, you can help protect your employees. Even the tiniest of changes can work wonders.
- Promote good standing posture – Encourage employees to balance their weight evenly on their feet and stand up straight if they’re on their feet for a long period of time.
- Support good sitting posture – Ensure office chairs are at the right height for feet to rest flat on the floor, or on a footrest, so thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Educate how to lift properly – Remind employees to get close to the object, to bend their knees and tighten their stomach muscles before using the leg muscles to stand up. And to never twist when lifting.
- Modify repetitive tasks – Supply lifting devices, schedule in tasks that alternate between physically demanding and less demanding, or even provide headsets for those regularly on the phone.
- Consult your employees – They know what they find difficult and will often have good ideas about how to improve things. You’ll also find employees are more likely to follow procedures they’ve helped to design.
- Be strict on breaks – Promote a healthy work-life balance that includes lots of breaks will help enhance recovery and prevent fatigue.
Supporting employees with back pain
If you do notice a colleague suffering from back pain, there are several things you can suggest to help ease the pain, such as:
- Take anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen
- Use an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel to reduce pain and swelling
- Use a heat pack wrapped in a tea towel to relieve joint stiffness or muscle spasms
- Try doing some exercises and stretches for back pain.
It’s also important to identify and change the activity that’s causing the problem.
Getting help from the professionals
If you feel as though your employee isn’t getting any better, suggest talking to a Doctor Care Anywhere GP. We're available 24/7 and can help with all sorts of back pains, from dull and achy to sharp and stabbing.
Last updated August 2022.