How Back Pain Can Affect Employees Cognitively, Emotionally and Physically

Back injuries rank among the top work-related injuries each year and the causes aren’t always related to physical exertion. In fact, The U.S. Department of Labor recently stated that back injuries are the nation’s No. 1 workplace safety problem. What’s more is that the majority of these back injuries are due to lack of physical activity. Simple things such as sitting for prolonged periods or poor posture can initiate some pretty nasty health complications, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and neck, lower back and leg pain. If employees do not take care to monitor the signals their bodies give them, the results could be disastrous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “more than 1 million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. Further, one-fourth of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing [industries] billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by employees.” So preventing back injuries in your workplace is a necessity. But what can you do about it? Fortunately, we have created a guide to help you help your employees.

The Top Ten Causes of Work-Related Back Injuries

  1. Sitting for long periods without moving (especially if the workstation is not correctly arranged or adjusted to fit the person)
  2. Poor posture
  3. Heavy manual labor
  4. Repetitive tasks (such as manual packing)
  5. Driving for long distances (especially if the seat is not adjusted or sprung properly)
  6. Operating heavy equipment
  7. Stooping, bending or crouching
  8. Pushing, pulling or dragging loads that require excessive force
  9. Working beyond normal abilities (especially when physically exhausted)
  10. Stretching, twisting or reaching

How to Help Employees on the Movewrists exercise during office work - standing man reading at tab

  • Strength-test your employees. One study showed that strength testing can prevent up to one-third of work-related injuries by discouraging the assignment of workers to jobs that exceed their strength capabilities.
  • Lift properly. Train your employees to use lifting techniques that place minimum stress on their lower backs. Some people are more susceptible to back pain than others, so it is important to know how to lift heavy objects correctly.
  • Get with the program. Offer programs that reduce your employees’ risk of muscle strain, such as physical conditioning or strength training. A little gym time after work combines a wellness activity with some team bonding.
  • Have a chat. Talk to your employees directly to hear what they find physically difficult. They may even have some good ideas on how to improve methods. Involving employees in discussions to improve health and safety issues will make it easier to enact helpful changes. Employees will also be more likely to follow a safety plan they have helped to design.

How to Help Stationary Employees

  • Stop hunching. According to Health, leaning over a computer is a leading reason why four in five women end up with crippling back pain at some point in their lives. Tell your employees to sit up straight (they should check their posture hourly), move their mouse and keyboard closer so they do not have to lean forward, and keep their head up so their necks and shoulders are aligned. Their torso should be an arm’s length away from the monitor, which should be 2 to 3 inches above eye level.
  • Update the furniture. A new chair that is ergonomic and adjustable could save thousands in future health care costs. Pick chairs that allow your employees’ to rest their lower backs against the lumbar support. While sitting in the chair, they should tilt the chair back so it is slightly reclined.
  • Keep feet flat. Employees that cross their legs may end up with varicose veins, increased blood pressure, additional back and neck pain, and it can mess with the nerves in their feet (i.e. numbness). Remind your employees to not cross their legs.
  • Encourage movement. Let your employees know it is encouraged to get up at least once per hour to go to the bathroom, do some stretches or take a quick walk around the office. The payoff? It will help support less stressed, more limber and more productive employees.

Some of the Many Benefits of Back Injury Prevention Include:

  • Reduced pain and difficulty for employees
  • Reduced recovery time for employees to return to work
  • Improved productivity and reduced absenteeism
  • Improved emotional and cognitive decision making

Certainly, back pain can effect a person in more than just the physical sense. Chronic pain can lead to mental and emotional damage if not treated properly. “In 1979, the major professional organization specializing in pain—the International Association for the Study of Pain—introduced the most widely used definition of pain: ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential damage, or described in terms of such damage.’ This pain is a complex experience that includes both physical and psychological factors,” says the North American Spine Society.

In fact, a recent study tested the relationship between a person’s pain and their emotions and the results were surprising. The study tested 48 participants with chronic lower back pain aged 18 to 70. The participants were asked to refrain from taking pain killers on the day of testing. To assess the individuals cognitive and emotional processes, five exams were devised, each lasting one hour and taking place one after the other. The tests were used to test the individual’s cognitive abilities, such as memory, verbal recall, problem-solving, attention span and motor speed.

The results showed that the intensity and duration of pain experienced was significantly correlated to the scores the participants received on the tests. Ultimately this study suggests that employees who suffer from back pain may not only be affected in regards to their work life, but within their personal life as well. With emotional effects such as depression and anxiety, chronic pain is not something to mess around with. To learn more on how to help your employees in pain (or to prevent pain), read our post here.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, back pain is one of the most common medical problems and eight out of ten people at some point during their lives are affected. If an employee does get stuck in the cycle of chronic pain, it could potentially lead to high medical costs and presenteeism among other negative effects. There are many resources for employees that live with chronic back pain. One such resource would be to utilize free EAP counseling to address this cycle.

At the end of the day, you want your employees to be healthy. Use this simple guide as a resource for back-related injury prevention. Have a conversation with your employees today about what you can do to improve their comfortability levels and how you can make coming to work as pain-free as possible.