By Craig Jankuski, Vice President Rehabilitation Services at Aurora Health Care
It’s estimated that low back pain affects approximately 31 million Americans at any given time. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries affect more than one million workers each year and account for nearly 20 percent of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately half of back pain incidents are preventable.
Back pain — a serious and costly concern for employers
In addition to direct medical costs, employees may be unable to perform daily activities or job-related tasks, thus reducing workplace productivity. Without proper treatment, employees may end up suffering with long-term, chronic
back pain that can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Who’s at greatest risk?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, six occupations account for more than 25% of ergonomic back injuries1
- Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers
- Freight, stock and material movers
- Nursing assistants
- Janitors and cleaners
- Registered nurses
The most common types of job-related back injuries are:
- Strain - overused or overstretched muscles
- Sprain - torn ligaments from sudden or awkward movement
Back injuries often occur when the back is suddenly engaged by lifting, pulling, pushing motions or through a fall. Encouraging employees to take a few minutes to stretch and warm up their muscles before engaging in activity can help them maintain a healthy back.
Unsafe lifting and carrying of heavy or awkward objects causes many back injuries. Employees who have good body mechanics and decent muscle tone are less likely to incur a back injury. To avoid back injuries, employees should bend at the knees and squat down when lifting, so the legs do most of the work, rather than the back. Don’t twist the body while lifting. Regular stretching and strength exercises, especially those that strengthen the core (the lower back and stomach area) are known to reduce incidences of back pain.
Primary prevention pays big dividends
Having a prevention program is crucial to preventing painful and expensive workplace injuries. Employers who take a proactive approach can dramatically reduce the number of debilitating back injuries and significantly reduce their workers’ compensation claims. The first step is educating and training your workforce.
This includes educating your workforce on:
• common back injuries
• back injury prevention
• safe lifting procedures
• proper load-carrying techniques
Employers can also encourage better workplace habits and proactively address any on-the-job situations related to sitting, posture or other job-related factors that may be causing back pain in their employee population.
Early intervention is key
If, and when, back and spine issues do arise, having employees get in and get help quickly matters. Early intervention is key. Any delays in seeking medical care will result in the treatment taking longer, costing more and the outcome may not be as favorable.
A conservative management approach
Aurora Health Care offers a comprehensive Back and Spine program to both prevent back injuries and rehabilitate and get your employees back on the road to better health quickly.
Conservative medical management effectively treats back pain, typically through non-surgical treatment options such as physical therapy and chiropractic care. Physical therapy can shorten recovery times and help people return to work as quickly as possible. If pain should persist, medications or muscle relaxants may be indicated.
As a general rule, surgery for back pain is considered only when all other conservative treatment options are not successful and pain persists for an extended period of time. This would only apply to a small percentage of back pain patients.
When back problems arise in the workplace, seeking prompt, proper medical treatment improves the prognosis for a quick return to work and a complete recovery. Aurora’s expertly trained Occupational Health professionals can promptly diagnosis and treat both acute and chronic back injuries. However, taking steps to prevent back problems from happening in the first place is by far the best and most cost-effective “treatment” of all.
Craig Jankuski is Aurora Health Care’s Vice President Rehabilitation Services, Greater Milwaukee North, and Greater Milwaukee South
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) Non-fatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2014. (online) Available from: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.nr0.htm