By Angela Hendricks
A lot of the injuries that we are going to explore in the next few articles can be injuries that have occurred outside the workplace but that have been aggravated by ergonomic factors. Injuries are not only influenced by what you do at work but also what you do at home, at the gym and even the position in which you sleep. It is important to think about all your activities in a 24 hour day to try and determine what the aggravating factors are. If it is the workplace then we can help!
One of the most common injuries and one that 80% of us will suffer from at some stage of our lives is LOWER BACK PAIN (LBP). Pain can occur at any level of the spine but the lumbar area is the most common. The statistics are scary but knowing what to do about it can put you in the other (healthy) 20%.
Lower back pain can present with localised discomfort in the lumbar area, often felt when lifting, twisting or sitting for extended periods. You can also experience pain in the buttocks, referred pain down one or both legs, pain with leaning forward or backwards and pain with sneezing or coughing. A sedentary lifestyle, obesity, lack of activity, weak stabilising muscles, poor posture and of course poor ergonomics can all contribute to LBP.
In the first article, we talked about how sitting in the incorrect posture causes your spine to curve and puts pressure on discs in between each of the vertebra. If the problem is not resolved it can result in a “slipped disc” or herniated disc. Often it just takes one incident such as twisting awkwardly or picking up something heavy, for the inner gel-like substance of the disc to bulge and put pressure on nerves and other structures causing pain.
Other types of LBP can result from sprained facet joints (the joints where the vertebrae overlap each other), muscle spasm, irritated nerves and sprained ligaments. You should always consult with a medical practitioner to determine the cause of your LBP especially if the symptoms persist and the simple stretches or advice we give has not helped.
When it comes to treating your LBP ice and heat can help relieve symptoms when you are suffering from pain and spasm or just after a long days work. Ice is always used for an acute condition or within the first 48 hours of an injury. Heat can be used to relieve tired and sore muscles or for a more chronic condition. Heat promotes blood supply to the area and is also a good preparation before doing stretches.
Stretching of the lumbar muscles and leg muscles such as the hamstring are vital in the prevention and treatment of LBP. The mobility of your muscles influences the movement and free mobility of the joints. Please consult the exercise sheet given to you in the lecture for some lower back stretches. Remember: hold for 30 seconds but you should not feel any pain!
I’m sure you have all heard the term “Core Stability”. Core stability is the best way to prevent and relieve LBP and everyone should be focusing on strengthening your core whether you go to gym every day or you hardly do any exercise. Your body has deep muscles which have a special job of acting as stabilisers. LBP sufferers used to be given corsets that would do the job of these muscles and relieve their pain. It is more important and far more beneficial to strengthen the muscles that do the exact same job. Balls exercises, Pilates, Yoga and Back Classes all incorporate the principles of core stability and help strengthen the muscles necessary to support your spine.
Lastly and most importantly is posture. As discussed previously, if you do not maintain a neutral spine while standing or sitting you put added pressure on all the soft tissues structures and discs of your lumbar spine. As soon as your body moves from a standing to a sitting position your lumbar spine most commonly curves in the opposite direction. Ensure that your chair provides the correct lumbar support to maintain this curve. We look into this more when we look at your desk set up. ￼
Our next article will focus on neck pain and headaches, and how you can address these problems before they start. Until then, healthy working…