How’s That Back? Understanding and Preventing Back Injuries

Many back injuries are caused by incorrect lifting techniques, and while most of us have heard the advice about lifting objects with the legs instead of the back, many still continue to lift incorrectly because they don’t experience any immediate back pain. It’s important to remember that back injuries are usually cumulative, developing gradually over time. So while someone may not feel any pain after lifting a heavy object one day, another day they may experience a sudden back spasm and intense pain after simply lifting a light object.

Get to Know Your Back

Understanding is one step to prevention. The back is made up of vertebrae or bones that form our spine. Separating each vertebra is a disc or cushion made of cartilage that allows our back to bend. Running through all of these bones is the spinal cord, from which nerves branch off to different parts of the body and allow for sensations. However, there are no nerve endings going to the discs in our backs, meaning discs can be injured without us feeling any pain.

When we lift objects improperly and think we are doing no harm, little tears can actually be forming in our discs. If that continues, the disc can lose shape and begin to bulge or slip against the spinal cord, causing pain. If the tears are substantial enough to rip through the disc, it may herniate and cause immediate, extreme pain.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Back muscles provide support while lifting, but they only account for 50 percent of the support needed to lift safely. The other 50 percent comes from our stomach muscles. If these muscles are weak, our back may not have enough support to safely lift objects. Being overweight can also contribute to back injuries because we support the added weight with our backs, causing additional strain on the spine. This all contributes to future back pain, which is why a healthy diet and regular exercise is so important.

Safe Work Practices

Beyond our health, there are several other common factors we encounter daily in our workplace that contribute to back pain. These include poor posture, overexertion, repetition and fatigue. Lifting remains one of the most prevalent causes of back pain and injury; this can stem from how an item is lifted or its weight. It’s important to follow the advice on proper lifting techniques by getting into the habit of bending the knees and keeping the back straight while lifting to prevent injuries.

For more information about the ergonomics of lifting and preventing back pain, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

David Jackson Safety Auditor

P: 701.255.7180