About 7.6 million working days were lost due to work-related back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders from 2010 to 2011.
The most common causes of back pain are strained muscles or ligaments, wear and tear, bad posture and stress.
Most of us will have back pain at some point in our lives. Although painful, back pain isn't serious in most cases. The pain generally lasts from a few days to a few weeks. It usually clears up after about six weeks.
Treating back pain
In general, the best treatment is to stay active and, if necessary, use over-the-counter painkillers. You may feel like going to bed, but this won’t help and could make it worse.
The longer you're immobile, the weaker your back muscles will become, and the more they will hurt in the long term.
The best ways to deal with pain and help your back to recover are to maintain your mobility, based on your usual activities, and return to work as soon as possible.
Any exercise that strengthens your legs, back and stomach will help to keep your back healthy. Read exercises for back pain for more information.
Back pain at your desk
Sitting badly in front of a computer for hours on end is storing up trouble. The body can tolerate being in one position for only a short period of time before you feel the need to adjust.
Workstation factors that can affect your back include:
- seating posture
- computer screen position
- chair height
- keyboard position
- mouse position
- desk equipment layout
If you work in an office and use a computer, you can avoid injury by sitting in the right position and arranging your desk correctly. Get tips on how to sit correctly.
If you're not sure about your seating position and workstation, ask your manager to arrange a workplace assessment for you.
Good posture when sitting at a desk can help prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI), which is a cause of back pain. Sit up straight and make sure that your lower back is supported.
Adjusting your chair to avoid back pain
By law, workstation chairs must be stable. The standard office chair has five legs in a star shape.
The seat height must be adjustable, and the back rest must be adjustable in height and tilt. Ideally, the back rest should move independently of the seat to allow a comfortable position.
When you’re sitting, your thighs should be at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down.
If your chair is properly adjusted, your feet should be firmly on the floor, but if it’s more comfortable, use a footrest. The basic rule is to plant your feet on the floor and support your back.
Lifting safely to prevent back pain
One of the biggest causes of back injury, especially at work, is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling objects can help to prevent back pain.
Key points for lifting safely:
- Think before you lift.
- Start in a good position.
- Keep the load close to your waist.
- Keep your back as straight as possible.
- Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways.
- Keep your head up.
- Know your limits.
- Push heavy objects, don't pull them.
- Distribute the weight evenly.
For more information on correct lifting techniques and safe manual handling, read Safe lifting tips.
Take regular breaks
Don’t sit in the same position for long periods. Make sure you change your posture as often as is practicable.
Frequent short breaks are better for your back than fewer long ones. It gives the muscles a chance to relax while others take the strain. This can prevent you from becoming stiff and tense.
Most jobs provide opportunities to take a break from the screen, such as getting a drink, going for some fresh air, filing or photocopying.
For more information about staying healthy at work, visit the Health for Work website or phone 0800 077 8844.