MAXIS GBN

Read tips from our “beating back pain” toolkit to help you protect your spine

Back painHas your back been aching recently? It’s hardly surprising. More and more of us are suffering with back pain as people all over the world have been forced to work from home for months. Let’s face it, working at kitchen tables, sat on beds, or at desks but without proper equipment for the last six months (or more!) hasn’t been good news for our posture. And given the fact that it may be some time before we’re all in the office again – if ever – it’s crucial that we all look after our backs.

Even mild lower back pain can affect how productive you are during the day. When you feel an ache or twinge in your back, you may move more slowly and carefully. If the pain increases over time, you may find yourself losing sleep, feeling anxious and avoiding activities that could make the pain worse. And with everything else that has happened in 2020 so far, the last thing any of us need is another reason to worry!  

Back pain isn’t a disease, but it can be as debilitating and even as disabling as a disease. For employers, lower back pain has a proven significant effect on productivity and healthcare costs in the workplace. According to one source, the total cost to employers for back pain amounts to US$34,600 per 100 employees annually.This includes direct medical and disability claims, and indirect effects on the overall productivity of the organisation through absenteeism.

But there’s good news! There is a lot of information available regarding tackling lower back pain and some simple lifestyle changes can prevent this chronic condition from developing. 

Don’t be a “weekend warrior”!

In our pre-COVID lifestyle, being a “weekend warrior”– was quite normal.  That’s a person who is sedentary during the week and saves intense physical activity – running, Zumba, HIIT, team sports etc. – for the weekend. Sound familiar?

And in spite of the fact that many of us now have more time in the week without our daily commute, you may still find you’re not exercising much because you’re too busy with work, family responsibilities or even home schooling. Or perhaps you think the weekend is the only good time to maintain your fitness level. Those that cycled, ran or walked as part of their commute might have even lost some of their regular weekly exercise opportunities!

But weekend warriors need to be careful – they are more likely to suffer painful back injuries than people who make moderate physical activity a daily habit. Studies show that regular, low-impact, aerobic exercise is beneficial for maintaining the integrity of intervertebral discs.2

An intervertebral disk acts as shock absorber between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column by keeping the vertebrae separated when there is impact from activity. They also serve to protect the nerves that run down the middle of the spine.2 The disks can handle a lot of pressure. If a disk is damaged, the resulting back pain can become more severe over time. And, one of the key risk factors for disk problems may be a lack of regular exercise.2

Maintain a healthy weight

With quarantines, lockdowns and home working, reaching for comfort food or snacking more can be quite tempting. But it’s worth remembering that being overweight can put stress on the back.

And weight isn’t just about the food you eat. There’s often a relationship between being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle. If you follow a healthy diet plan, you can reduce the strain on your back. Regular exercise during the week may reduce the effects of sedentary habits and help strengthen your back at the same time.2

Move as much as possible

The spine is designed for movement. Sitting in one position for extended periods of time stiffens your back muscles, which can put stress on your spine – especially if you have bad posture or are working in an awkward or uncomfortable position. 

All kinds of movement stimulate blood flow, and blood brings important nutrients and oxygen to the structures of the back. Regular movement helps prevent soft tissues in the low back from stiffening and aching which typically occurs after sitting for a long time.

Be sure to stand up and move around periodically through the day. Even ten seconds of movement and stretching is better than not moving at all.

Other lifestyle changes that may help you maintain a healthy, pain-free back.

Posture 

  • Avoid slouching and hunching your shoulders
  • Try not to hover over laptops, tablets and smartphones with your head down – easier said than done in the current situation, we know. But your head is heavy and your neck was designed to hold it up rather than forward, so it’s important to keep your head up.

Sitting

  • Keep your stomach muscles pulled in and maintain the proper curve in your lower back (tighten your stomach and buttock muscles, but don’t hold your breath)
  • Place a small cushion behind your lower back to help maintain the natural curve of your back
  • Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips (using a footstool or even a book under your feet).

Stress

  • Daily stress may cause you to tighten your shoulder and back muscles, which could eventually lead to back muscle spasms.

Standing

  • Stand with your weight equally distributed on both of your feet
  • Carefully place one foot on a footstool to ease tension in your back
  • Wear flat or low-heeled shoes if you stand for long periods of time
  • Keep your stomach muscles pulled in and maintain the proper curve in your lower back (tighten your stomach and buttock muscles, but don’t hold your breath)
  • Using these techniques when you’re using a standing desk are vital. 

Stretch your hamstrings

  • Stretching your hamstrings can decrease the pressure on your pelvis and provide relief across your lower back.

Strengthen your core

  • Strong core muscles (which include your abdominal muscles, back muscles and the muscles around the pelvis) are important for providing lower back support.

Sleep

  • Place a pillow between your knees while sleeping on your side
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach
  • If you don’t have knee problems, you could try placing a pillow under your knees when lying on your back to help ease your back muscles.

Lifting heavy objects

  • Squat and use your legs instead of your back to lift
  • Hold the object close to you when moving it from one place to another
  • Get help to lift objects that are too heavy to lift on your own.
     

Practicing  these techniques can help you minimise the risk of back pain and musculoskeletal injuries. If you would like to run a “beating back pain” awareness campaign in your workplace to help educate your employees too, contact your local MAXIS GBN representative or email m[email protected] to request our educational toolkit with ready to use campaign materials.

 


1  Curt Fickler & Roger Keemink, Corporate Wellness Magazine https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/sore-points-how-much-is-employee-back-pain-costing-your-company (sourced September 2020)
2  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Back Pain Fact Sheet,” December 2014

The information contained in this document is intended to provide general guidance on health and wellness matters and should not be relied upon as medical advice. MAXIS GBN is not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this document. The information may not apply to your particular circumstances, and so you rely on it at your own risk. You should always consult a licensed health care professional for the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and before starting or changing your health regime, including seeking advice regarding what drugs, diet, exercise routines, physical activities or procedures are appropriate for your particular condition and circumstances.