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Back Injuries – What Happens?

Did you know that almost 80% of adults will experience back pain or injury during their lifetime? It is also a common reason for lost work time.

Back InjuryUnderstanding your back, the different types of back injuries and what generally causes them can help us to find better procedures to avoid back injuries during manual handling, when setting up workstations, etc.
 
Your back is supported by a spinal column. The spinal column is made up of vertebrae. Each of those vertebrae are supported by muscles, ligaments and tendons. And each of those vertebrae is cushioned by discs. The majority of back pain issues and injuries occur because one part of the body is weak or overworked and the back attempts to compensate. For example, the abdominal muscles may not be strong enough to carry sudden excessive weight around the waist, so the back must overcompensate to carry it, leading to back ache.

Let’s look at each part of the back in more detail.

Muscles

Muscular back pain is the most common form of back pain. It is most likely to occur when placing too much demand on those muscles – either by introducing a new activity that the muscles are not used to, or by increasing the workload (weight or time wise) over what the muscles are accustomed to. Injury can occur too when the muscles are cold. Just like a sprinting athlete would warm up the muscles of their legs and arms, work that emphasizes the back muscles should be proceeded by a warm up of those muscles.

Cramping or seizures of the back muscles are referred to as back spasms. 

Piriformis Syndrome is painful and is often caused by the bottom’s piriformis muscle pinching the sciatic nerve.

To avoid muscle pain and injury:

  • Warm up thoroughly first
  • Avoid repetitive tasks that put strain on the back (research if equipment can perform the job)
  • Drink plenty of water as dehydration can lead to muscle spasms

If muscle ache occurs:

  • Rest using good posture
  • Apply gentle heat, eg. warm shower, heat pad, etc.
  • Go for a short, relaxing walk

Ligaments

Ligaments are bands of fibrous material that connect bone to bone. They work as shock absorbers and prevent over movement/ over extention of the joints.

Injury through tearing a ligament can occur due to prolonged poor posture. The ligaments become overstretched due to the poor posture and then when sudden strain is placed on them, they can tear.

Damage to the ligaments of the back have been known to occur during taks such as digging or shovelling.

To avoid ligament injury:

  • Practice good posture at all times
  • Avoid tasks that put excessive strain on the back (research if equipment can perform the job)

Discs

Discs are like little gel cushions in between each vetebrae and the next. If you lean to one side the down-tilted side of each disc will be squashed and the up-tilted side of the disc will expand.

Pain and injury to the discs can occur when the spine is rotated, and by bending forward. More squashing of the disc would occur if you were to bend forward or rotate while lifing a heavy load.

To avoid disc injury:

  • Practice good posture at all times
  • Follow the correct lifting techniques – and never twist your body as you lift something. See The Art of Lifting

Tendons

Tendons are bands of fibrous material that connect muscle to bone. 

The most common injury relating to tendons is known as Tendonitis. This painful condition is from stress on a tendon whether it be through repeated motion, trauma to the body, or an imbalance in posture or motion.

To avoid tendon injuries:

  • Allow time for the body to recover from any activity, new or old
  • As with all other back issues, warm up before undertaking activity
  • When starting a new activity, do it in small bouts – and increase the intensity or time ratio gradually – allow your body to adjust over time.

The big picture?

  • Practice good posture at all times
  • Be aware of your back and treat it with care
  • Warm up before undertaking any activity that puts pressure on your back
  • Rest and recover between activity
  • Allow your body to adapt to new activities

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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