Getting through the work day can be hard if you are dealing with back pain, especially if you have a job that puts extra demands on your back, such as nursing or construction work. Even desk jobs with prolonged sitting, whether you're working from home or in an office, can take its toll on your back.
"There are a number of factors that can contribute to back pain at work, such as deconditioning, overexertion from heavy lifting, and repetitive movements such as bending or twisting," says Dr. Robert Power, an occupational medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. "If you work sitting at a desk, you are also prone to back pain because of inactivity or limited movement, especially if you don't have good posture or proper back support."
Ways to avoid back pain and injuries while working
Dr. Power recommends the following five tips to help you protect your back while working:
1. Don't slouch. Good posture is important both when you are sitting and standing. Choose a chair that supports your back and make sure you adjust the height of your seat so your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest. Also, stand with your weight evenly balanced on your feet. If your company has an ergonomics department, request an evaluation of your workspaces, both in the office and at home, to optimize posture and comfort.
2. Lift properly. Be sure you lift heavy objects using your legs and avoid twisting when lifting. Ask someone to help you if an object is too heavy to lift safely.
3. Break up repetitive tasks. If you work at a computer, make sure your keyboard, monitor, screen and mouse are adjusted properly. If you use your phone for long periods throughout the day, place the call on speaker mode or invest in a headset.
4. Listen to your body. It's important to change positions often if you sit for long periods of time. Be sure to take stretch breaks or a short walk every 15 to 30 minutes.
5. Strengthen your muscles. One of the best ways to prevent physical injury is by strengthening your muscles. Stronger muscles help hold the body in proper alignment and are less susceptible to muscle pulls than weaker ones.
Treating back pain at home
Most back pain goes away on its own after a few weeks. For pain relief, you can try over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin® IB), naproxen (Aleve®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®), or apply heat or ice to the affected area.
"Contrary to popular belief, bed rest is not recommended for treating back pain," says Dr. Power. "Instead, you should try to return to your daily activities as soon as possible, which can speed up your recovery."
Be sure to see a doctor right away if your back pain:
- Is severe and lasts more than 24 to 48 hours
- Is accompanied by a fever
- Causes numbness, pain or weakness in your leg or foot
- Follows a fall or other traumatic injury to your back