BACK SAFETY        
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Sprains and strains are the most common causes of lower back pain.  Your back can be injured by improper lifting of moderate to heavy objects, falling, auto accidents, and sports activities.  But of these, lifting improperly is the largest single cause of back pain and injury.  Luckily, you can do something about preventing back pain by knowing and using proper lifting techniques.

When you straighten up after bending over, muscles, vertebrae, ligaments, and discs in your back, bear more than a quarter of a ton of strain.  If you lift with your back at the same time, the weight of the object is multiplied 15 times.

The following techniques and suggestions may help prevent back injuries: back.h1.gif (25433 bytes)

Other factors that can contribute to back pain and injury:

Poor Posture

Whether you are standing, sitting, or reclining, posture affects the amount of strain put on your back.  The wrong posture increases strain on the back muscles and may bend the spine into positions that will cause trouble.  When standing correctly, the spine has a natural "S" curve.  The shoulders are back and the "S" curve is directly over the pelvis.

Good sitting posture should put your knees slightly higher than your hips.  Your hips should be to the rear of the chair with your lower back not overly arched.   Also, your shoulders and upper back are not rounded.  Reclining posture is important, too.  Sleep on your side with knees bent or sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees.  Sleeping on your stomach, especially on a sagging mattress with your head on a thick pillow, puts too much strain on the spine.  Result:   morning backache.

Extended Sitting/Standing

Certain jobs require long hours of standing or sitting. These conditions can create back troubles. Get up and stretch frequently if you are required to sit for long periods. If standing, ease the strain on your lower back by changing foot positions often, placing one foot on a rail or ledge. However, keep your weight evenly balanced when standing. Do not lean to one side.

Poor Physical Condition

Your physical condition can lead to back pain.  If you are overweight, and especially if you have developed a pot belly, extra strain on your spine results.  An estimate is that every extra pound up front puts 10 pounds of strain on your back.

When you are out of shape, the chances for chronic back pain are greater.   Infrequent exercises is a major factor, too.  A sudden strain on generally unused back muscles leads to trouble, particularly when there is a sudden twisting or turning of the back.  Proper diet and exercise is the sensible way to help avoid back problems.

Stress is another factor that may lead to back pain.  Tied in with your general physical condition, stress created from work or play can cause muscle spasms that affect the spinal nerve network.  Although stress is part of everyone's life, and a certain amount of stress is normal, excessive stress causes backache.  The solution is a balanced life style with time to relax.

Repetitive Trauma

People often think back injuries result from a one time lift of a heavy or awkward object.  Many back injuries, however, do not come from a single lift, but occur from relatively minor strains over time.

Back injuries, as with other cumulative trauma disorders (CTD), may arise from repeated injuries.  As the worker repeats a particular irritating movement, the minor injuries begin to accumulate and weaken affected muscles or ligaments.  Eventually, a more serious injury may occur.

Thus, a specific weight lifted may actually have little to do with any single injury.   Remember to use mechanical aids when appropriate along with good lifting techniques, whenever you do any lifting.  Get extra help when lifting heavy or awkward items. You can lift safely when performed with caution.

Take the time each day to remind yourself of what you are doing.  In short, use your head to save your back.


University of the Sciences in Philadelphia • 600 South Forty-third Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104-4495 • phone: 215-596-8800 • email: safety@usp.edu