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According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), work related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) (including those of the neck, upper extremities and especially the lower back) are one of the leading causes of lost workday injury and illness.  MSDs affect the muscles, nerves and tendons. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that industries with the highest MSD rates include healthcare, transportation and warehousing, retail and wholesale trade, and construction.

You may not be able to totally eliminate or control each of these risk factors, but there are things you can do to minimize some of them.

Most back problems are related to the spine, which consists of discs that provide cushioning between vertebrae and enable us to bend and twist. Unfortunately, with improper bending and twisting, especially while carrying a load, the discs can suffer wear and tear, which may lead to an injury such as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). We often think of a back injury as caused by a single event, like lifting a heavy load, but the injury, more than likely, results from the cumulative effect of bending or  twisting. A single event may trigger the injury, but it is merely “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Risk factors that increase your chances of sustaining a back injury include:

  • Repetition: the number of back motions made per work day.
  • Force: the weight of the load lifted, pushed or pulled.
  • Posture: the degree to which the back is bent or twisted.
  • Load: the size, stability, grip, sharp edges or slipperiness.
  • Distance: the horizontal distance of load from individual, vertical distance lifted or distance moved.
  • Environmental: heat, cold, posture constraints, flooring, obstacles or vibration.
  • Personal: weight, size, strength, flexibility, lifting techniques or work and living habits.

You may not be able to totally eliminate or control each of these risk factors, but there are things you can do to minimize some of them. For instance, try to reorganize your work area to reduce bending, lifting and twisting. Poor workflow planning can cause needless repetition and increased risk. Practice proper ergonomic lifting techniques, which require bending at the knees and keeping your back straight. Stretch before you start work and after you are finished. Eat healthy and stay fit.