A weblog dedicated to Ergonomics education, dicussion and debate. This emerging field has the power to transform industry, business and the lives of ordinary people for the better. The Industrial Athlete intends to encourage and document our profession's vision of an ergonomically-friendly future!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Back Injuries: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

As alluded to in the previous post, back injuries exact a large toll on the economy, as well as in the quality of life of the many workers that it afflicts. In order to properly address this issue, we must first identify the factors behind the occurence of back injuries.

Many workers handle loads that are far heavier than they should be handling, given the conditions that they work under in the first place (loads far from body, angle that the load is retrieved at, etc). The conditions listed previously add to the risk, as do the many occasions where the worker is required to repeat these tasks. Together, they add up to an increased risk of injury to the back. These injuries manifest themselves in various ways, resulting from bulging spinal discs, to sudden muscular spasms, to tears and sprains of the tendons and ligaments of back muscles.

How does one avoid such injuries? Bearing in mind that the most effective controls are engineering controls, the work environment should be changed to eliminate or greatly limit the instances where heavy loads are handled, and where back bending is required. Bringing in mechanical aids, reducing the weight of loads by spreading them out among more containers, or changing the material that work objects are made of help to reduce this risk factor. As far as posture is concerned, changing the work orientation so that all loads are situated between 33 and 38" above the standing surface, or at least between 22" and 49" above the standing surface will greatly reduce the instances where back bending is required as a work posture. Further tips of on administrative and behavioural controls can be accessed at the Mayo Clinic's website, on this page.

Regardless of the above measures, some worker may still suffer a back injury. If one of your workers, or if you are afflicted, remember that the "conventional wisdom" regarding laying on your back is largely misguided. While it is a good idea to avoid lifting objects immeadiately after an injury, laying around without movement will inhibit the flow of materials to the injury site, slowing the pace of recovery. In the case of severe, chronic back pain, surgery may be necessary. Consult your doctor if pain is persistent, in spite of initial treatment procedures.


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