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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Back Pain and Your Job

This article is reprinted from, and is the property of the Back Association of Canada (BAC).
Sit much? Well, how much? What causes most people's back pain? The person who finds a cut and dried answer to that one will win the Nobel Prize. Not that the question hasn't been studied. Over the years, many back pain researchers have directed their energies to the issue of cause.
This does not mean, however, that you cannot be treated successfully. Quite the contrary! Over the past few years, health care professionals have realized that, when it comes to treating back pain, it's almost always enough to know the category - or categories - into which the problem falls. Narrowing the problem down further doesn't usually make a whole lot of difference since the conservative treatment for each category is more or less the same.
A few decades ago, trauma (falls, for instance) was extremely popular as a cause while, in recent years, a lot of attention has been paid to sitting. During the years between, lifting has been at the top of the list. So has "cause unknown". For instance, Dr. C. Hirsch, an American researcher, found that it was impossible to pinpoint the cause for six out of ten of the back pain sufferers he studied.
The problem is that back pain is complex. Just for openers, we are talking about a problem whose source - never mind whose cause - cannot, in many cases, be identified. (Is the pain coming from the 4th lumbar vertebra, or the 5th? The facet joint or the disc?). A second issue is that a person's state of mind plays an important role. An anxious person who has a back injury can end up with a serious, long-lasting problem, while someone else is back to normal in a couple of days. So it makes sense that linking cause and effect can be a nightmare.
With that in mind, an interesting study was published by another American researcher, Dr. Alexander Magora. Rather than trying to link back pain with a specific cause - like a fall or a poor lifting technique - Dr. Magora studied the occupations of more than 3,300 people. He was interested to know how much of their work day people spent doing three particular kinds of tasks: tasks that required them to sit; tasks that required them to stand; and, tasks that required them to lift.
In the case of sitting and standing, the workers were divided into three categories. Often meant that a person sat for more than 4 hours each working day; sometimes meant between two and four hours each day, on average; and rarely or nevermeant that a person sat for less than two hours a day. (In the case of lifting, the categories were a bit different since the weight of the object also had to be considered.)
The results were very interesting, especially when it came to sitting. For example, hardly any of the back pain sufferers in Dr. Magora's study (3.5%) had jobs that required them to sit "sometimes". On the other hand, more than half of the back pain sufferers sat "rarely, or never" (54%). And a little less than half of them had jobs which required them to sit "often" (42%).
"Both too much sitting, and too little sitting," Dr. Magora concluded, "seems to be related to low back pain ." To put it simply, people are far less likely to suffer from a bad back if their jobs require them to do a variety of tasks - some sitting, some standing, some lifting - during the course of the work day.
It will require a commitment from management if a change in job routine is going to happen on a large scale. In the meantime, however, many of us could change our work habits, if we made it a priority in our own minds. For instance, if you have three hours of typing and two hours of filing, why not divide it up into 20 minute chunks? At the very least, it can't do your back any harm.

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