How to relieve low back pain at work

Over 80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their life. While pain is a normal part of the human experience, lasting pain or repeated injuries are NOT normal. 

Back pain at work can cause a lot more trouble. Unless it’s an acute injury, most people with work-related low back pain deal with it for months or years before seeking help. By that time, back pain becomes much more challenging to treat. 

Pain-related compensations gradually develop over many years on the job. And while the pain may resolve, the body’s memory of the pain can create habits that are hard to kick. 

The good news is that it’s never too late to take action – you can dramatically improve your back function and health in a relatively short time. This article will help you get started. 

Here are four of the most successful strategies we’ve found to reduce back pain in any job, as well as prevent future low back problems. Scan the overview, then read on for details about each strategy. Don’t miss the Bonus strategy at the end!

Overview

1. Sitting Work – High Hips

  • Sit with hips slightly higher than knees, and try to get up and walk around every 30-45 minutes of continuous work. 

2. Bending Work – Reverse It

  • Perform a 10 second Back Bend stretch with good form every hour, and perform several repetitions before your commute home at the end of the day. 

3. Lifting Work – Sit Back First

  • “Sit back in the chair” before lowering to lift a heavy object. You’ll be more likely to keep your back straight, and you’ll use your other joints in a more natural way. 

4. Carrying Work – Decompress

  • Perform the Bench Unloader exercise for 10-30 seconds with good form every hour, and perform several repetitions in a row when you can throughout the work cycle. 
  1. Sitting Work – High Hips

There is approximately 10 times more pressure pushing down on your spine when you sit compared to when you stand tall, accelerating dehydration of the shock-absorbing discs. Plus, most of us slouch when we do sit, increasing the strain on soft tissues and causes aching, pain, and stiffness.

The best way to avoid sitting-related low back pain is simply to get up every 30-45 minutes. As little as a 1-minute break to walk around can help.  However, there is a little secret that will mitigate the harmful effects of sitting, and that is high hips. 

Place a small cushion, your jacket, or a folded towel under your sitting bones and position your feet flat on the floor. From the side, your hip sockets will be just a bit higher than your knees.  Adjust the wedge height so that you feel the pressure relieved in your lower back.

2. Bending Work – Reverse It

Bending forward is a common movement in most jobs – after all, our arms and eyes are positioned for work in front of the body. Unfortunately, repetitive or prolonged bending creates fatigue in the back muscles, reducing their ability to maintain spine alignment. As a result, the shock-absorbing spinal discs are  compressed, placing them at risk of damage.

You can reverse much of the pressure on your discs with a simple Back Bend microstretch. Start by locking your knees straight. Push your belly forward using your hands on your hip bones. 

You’ll feel pressure in the front of your hips as well as pressure in your back. This is expected, as long as it doesn’t cause pain. If you are stiff, look straight ahead instead of up so that you don’t over-arch or lose balance.

Hold the stretch for 10 full seconds and keep breathing. That’s it! Perform 1 repetition every hour (or as needed), and 3 reps at the end of the day before commuting home. 

3. Lifting Work – Sit Back First

You may have learned to lift by “bending at the knees, not at the waist.” While the second half is true – keeping your waist and back straight prevents back strain – the first half advice can be better. 

Instead of “bend the knees” we say “sit back in the chair” or “hinge the hips”. This is because when you move your hips first, you’ll naturally keep your back straighter AND move the leg’s joints in their natural order from biggest to smallest. 

Take a look at the picture below- the hip joint is bigger than the knee joint, which is bigger than the ankle joint. By turning the biggest hip gear first –  “sit back in the chair” – the smaller gears will start moving naturally when it’s their turn. 

4. Carrying Work – Decompress

Over the course of the day, gravity forces compress the joints and shock-absorbing discs of the spine, squeezing out water. These pressures are magnified when we have to stand or carry heavy equipment for hours on end, causing more dehydration and stiffness. 

You can relieve this type of pain and rehydrate your discs with decompression exercises. You can also use spinal decompression to unload the stress off your lower back before the pain even sets in! Here is one method that works well in the field: Bench Unloader.

Place your hands on the edge of a secure table, countertop, of the trunk of your car. Lean forward and relax your weight over your wrists with elbows locked, until you feel a gradual release of pressure in your lower back. Be sure to keep your toes on the ground. 

Hold this position for as many seconds as possible (at least 10, and up to 30 seconds) and keep breathing. Repeat for repetitions over 2 minutes, as often as you can, and ideally for a couple of reps every hour when you are under physical stress. 

Bonus: Daily Legs Up the Wall Recovery Time 

This drill is borrowed from yoga, and can really do wonders for your lower back at the end of the day. The lowest moveable section of the spine (called L5-S1) is where humans experience the largest shear (horizontal) forces. Shear forces play a large role in aging of the spinal discs. 

Legs Up The Wall achieves 3 important things: 

  • Decompresses the lower spine
  • Reverses the shear forces 
  • Relaxes the surrounding muscle and ligaments

To try it, lie down on the floor and place your legs up the wall. Move your hips away far enough away that you feel a comfortable stretch in your legs and relaxation in your lower back. Place a rolled towel under your tailbone to increase comfort and bend your knees as needed. 

Stay here for 5 minutes, wiggling your legs as needed. To get up, press your heels into the wall and roll to your side, slowly sliding your legs down to the ground. 

Putting it all together 

Based on your job and activities, practice these strategies whenever the opportunity comes along. Keep doing what’s working to reduce your back pain and modify or discontinue what doesn’t.

If none of these tips improve your symptoms, we suggest you consider seeing your medical provider or a physical therapist who can give you advice based on your specific situation. Back pain is no fun, and the sooner you can investigate, the easier it is to eliminate!


Questions about back pain or repeated injuries? Send us your question at team@alphapnr.com. We answer every question. 

If you have a friend, teammate, or co-worker who could use this information, please share it with them.


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