Back Pain in Outdoor Workers

The greatest cost to employers is unproductive labour. This manifests itself through inefficiencies and poor time management controls, as well as through lost work time due to workplace injuries, primarily back pain.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, sprains and strains that cause back pain account for 43 percent of the 1.3 million injuries and illnesses that require time off work. This lost work time means a decrease in profitability for the employer.

Spring and summer bring increased activity in the landscaping and construction trades. Employees in these occupations are at disproportionately high risk of back pain secondary to sprains and strains, not only because of the physical nature of the work, but also because of the relative inactivity during the winter months, followed by the aggressive spring and summer work schedule.

The frustrating point for the business owner is the relative lack of control over this statistic. While you may not have direct control over keeping employees injury-free, you can help educate them by sharing some tips and tricks to prevent injuries.

Look for the signs

Understanding the warning signs of possible back pain is by far the number one key to prevention. Knowing when to slow down or back off can save a lifetime of pain. People often say that their back is “turned off” in them. “Doc, I bent over and, ‘pow,’ I fell on my knees.” After discussing the facts with them, the doctor usually determines that the patient’s body was sending out warning signals for quite some time, and that this final episode was not just a surprise or the result of bad luck.

Here are the most common warning signs:

– Unusual tension in the upper part of the hamstrings

– Tension in the lower back, usually more on one side than the other.

– Pain in the middle of the lower back, especially when leaning back or standing from a sitting position

– Recent significant life stress, related to family, finances, or health

Proper mechanics

The hips, or pelvis, are connected to the abdominal muscles and thigh muscles in the front and connected to the lower back, buttocks, and hamstring muscles in the back. The key elements to preventing back pain are keeping your feet in a wide stance, moving your feet, and relying on the large muscles of the buttocks to initiate each movement. The best way to visualize this is through an athletic analogy. Imagine that your basketball or soccer coach tells you to stay down, move your feet, etc.

This is good advice, whether on the sports field or in the workplace. The bottom line is that to prevent back pain while performing manual labor, you must think like an athlete. Understanding proper lifting mechanics is also an important and widely misunderstood factor in preventing these injuries. Learning to “lift with your legs” is not enough training to make a difference. Almost all athletic movements begin with the hips. Actions such as throwing a ball or swinging a bat or stick are initiated and controlled by the joints and muscles of the hips. The hips control all of the body’s activities and movements and, to minimize back pain, must be used properly during work.

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