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Prevention of Back Injuries

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Prevention of back injuries is a major workplace safety challenge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. Further, a large percentage of workers’ compensation claims involve back injuries, costing employers billions of dollars on top of the pain and suffering borne by their impacted employees.

Back injury incidence is greatest among 35-55 year olds. This makes sense since it is the age group where we find ourselves most active in our careers. However, it is also the time of our lives when we begin to see our physical conditioning decline. Risk for back injury has not been strongly identified to be associated with gender, body size or shape. Injury risk does, however, appear to increase with poor physical conditioning and decrease with improved physical conditioning.

Most back injuries occur to the lower back when employees are lifting. Back disorders result when we exceed the capabilities of our muscles, tendons and discs or from the cumulative effect of these contributing factors:


  • Excessive reaching or twisting while lifting
  • Working in awkward postures
  • Sitting or standing in sedentary positions for long amounts of time
  • Stressful living and working activities
  • Unsafe body mechanics when lifting, pushing, pulling and carrying
  • Poor physical condition-loss of strength and endurance to perform physical tasks
  • Suboptimal job layout or work station design
  • Repetitive lifting or awkward movements
  • Heavy or forceful lifting
  • Vibration, e.g., from vehicles, machinery, tools

Focus on Fitness

Physical conditioning is a key success factor when it comes to back injury prevention. Major areas of fitness to focus on include strength, stability, flexibility and endurance. Leg and trunk muscle strength is important. Recommended leg exercises include squats, lunges and presses. Trunk exercises should focus on abdominal and back extensor muscles.

Aerobic fitness has also been associated with maintaining a healthy back. Walking, running and biking 20-30 minutes per day have all been shown to help improve circulation, increase endurance and decrease recovery time after strenuous work.

Our sleeping situations also contribute to the health of our backs. Mattresses, pillows and beds should be in good condition. Mattresses can sometimes benefit from regularly being flipped and rotated. Since we ideally spend about one third of our day in bed, it makes good sense to pay attention to this important part of our lives.

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