Back injuries can be extremely painful and difficult to heal from, but they are also very common. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for 20 percent of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace, second only to the common cold. A large portion of those back injuries occur from improper lifting techniques or attempting to lift a load that is too heavy or bulky. It only takes one wrong move or one missed step to have lifelong problems.
Common Occupational Improper Lifting Injuries:
- Muscle Strains and Ligament Sprains - An acute strain or sprain can be caused by a single instance of improper lifting or by overstressing weak back muscles. A chronic strain or sprain condition usually results from overuse involving prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons. Other factors that put an individual at risk include: excessively curving the lower back, being overweight, having weak back or abdominal muscles, and/or tight hamstrings. Some signs and symptoms to be aware of are: pain worsening with movement, muscle cramping, decreased flexibility, difficulty walking, pain with bending forward or sideways, and discomfort when standing for long periods of time.
- Lumbar Vertebral Disk Herniations - Vertebral disks are made of a soft, jelly-like substance that sit between each spinal bone to absorb compression and movement forces placed upon the back. A herniation occurs when a disk slips out of place or ruptures because of a change in fluid pressure within the abdomen during improper lifting. Approximately 90% of all disk issues occur in the low back with a posterior bulge between the L4 and L5 vertebrae (where most trunk flexion and extension take place). Because of this, pressure may be placed upon the spinal cord and nerves. This can result in the following symptoms: pain that runs down the buttocks and legs, tingling or numbness, muscle spasms, discomfort with movement, trouble sleeping in certain positions, bowel dysfunction and point tenderness over the affected area.
- Abdominal Hernias - Abdominal hernias occur when the contents of a body cavity bulge out of an area where they are normally contained, most commonly seen in portions of the intestines. Hernias are most prevalent in men and can be caused by the following: heavy lifting with weaknesses of the abdominal wall muscles, fluid displacement within the abdomen, prostate related problems and complications following a surgical procedure. It is not uncommon to be able to feel a lump over the affected area, but it is also important to be aware of full body weakness, fever, constipation, nausea, urinary problems and pain that can also point towards an abdominal herniating.
Injury Prevention Techniques:
- STRETCH - Shortened muscles can throw the spine out of alignment and cause back pain. Stretching lengthens shorten muscles and can help relieve back pain and prevent an injury from occurring. Stretching exercises should focus on the low back, buttocks, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, abdominals and calves. Each stretch should be done 3-5 times on each side and held for at least 10-15 seconds without pain.
- STRENGTHEN - An increase in muscular strength decreases the prevalence and severity of pain. Improvements and changes from strength training can have long-lasting effects that improve posture and decrease the chance of injury/reinjury of the low back. For injuries associated with poor lifting techniques the core will be the main focus. The core is made up of the back and abdominal muscles that primarily function to stabilize the body and build a foundation for upper and lower body strength. The following are basic strengthening exercises that can be built upon in the future by introducing a resistance training program.
- PROPER LIFTING TECHNIQUE - Abnormal stress on the low back and abdomen can be avoided by keeping the body in a proper, aligned position throughout movements. Lifting injuries occur on a daily basis, so it is important to practice safe techniques to keep the spine safe. The following are key points to injury-free lifting:
o Plan and Practice Ahead
o Feet Shoulder Width Apart, Knees Bent, Back Straight
o Tighten the Abdominal Muscles
o Lifts with the Legs
o Lift Close to the Body
o Get Help