Back Pain in the Workplace

Back pain has a major effect on the workplace and was responsible for 6.6 million days lost in 2022/23, being the second most common reason for being absent from work.

When people think about back pain at work, most times they think of injuries as a result of heavy lifting. However, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration. All back pain is individual and can come about in conjunction with a pre-existing condition such as an abnormality in the spine or the presence of an underlying medical condition. Also, research has shown that back pain increases at times of Stress.

The back is comprised of vertebrae, bones that stack on top of each other like ‘Lego’. For the spine to remain upright it requires a framework of strong muscles, tendons, and ligaments (soft tissues) to support the bones. In the event that anything happens to the spine or the soft tissues it can then affect the structures that are found between the vertebrae, known as discs. The discs are soft jelly-like structures that fit between the vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. They also give space between the vertebrae to allow the spine to move. Most of the disc is made of water and over time the discs can dehydrate, which affects their function.

Many times, when a person experiences back pain it is usually due to a soft tissue strain. If a muscle, tendon, or ligament is strained/pulled it has the effect of pulling the spine to one side, causing a strain to the other side of the spine as well. In some instances when the spine moves abnormally it can move the discs so as they cause pressure on the nerves that supply the legs, abdomen, bladder, and bowels. The most common symptoms here would be, what is known as, Sciatica i.e. pressure on the sciatic nerve, that runs along the lower back, into the buttock region and down the back of the leg, to the outside of the foot and onto the toes.  This can occur in either leg, or very rarely it will affect both legs.

Once back pain is present it is advisable to rest the back for 2-3 days, to allow the soft tissue to heal. Providing there is no ongoing spasm in the muscle, a person would be encouraged to start with gentle exercises to bring the soft tissue back to its usual function. Expect to feel some discomfort as the tissues are stretched. The discomfort may last 1-2 days, but should then dissipate, showing that there is no further damage occurring. It is important that when carrying out stretching exercises that it is done in a relaxed fashion, so breathing out during the stretch. Relaxed tissues will stretch much better than strained tissues.

Many of us have had back ache at some point in our lives, which has then settled, and you are able to carry on as normal. In some cases, because the soft tissue is not exercised back to their normal strength, a person can retain a weakness in the affected area, which although the symptoms seem to have resolved, happens again following the slightest movement, such as sneezing.

With an understanding of back pain, it makes sense that to keep back pain at bay, and prevent any ongoing issues, that a person needs to carry out regular back exercises.  Yoga or Pilates are very good ways to keep the back and core muscles healthy and able to take the strain of daily living. For more information regarding back exercises, please see: