America has a serious back pain problem – and it’s not just caused by heavy lifting.
Damage done to the back from common motions like bending and twisting can build up over time, especially for workers in active, physically demanding jobs like logistics, construction, and agriculture. The cumulative pounding of these movements can increase the risk of workers getting chronic back pain, or work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).
More than 50 million adults in America suffer chronic back pain and the financial and physical toll it comes with is staggering:
Americans lose 264 million days of work a year because of back pain
Total costs for back pain in America exceed $100 billion per year
Many people know from personal experience that prolonged bending, twisting, and lifting can cause an achy back. However, chronic back pain not only prevents people from doing their job, it can also keep them from doing things they enjoy away from work.
But why are seemingly normal movements like bending and twisting so bad for your back?
The science behind back pain
The back functions like a lever (you know, like a see-saw) and the spine works as the fulcrum: your body weight and anything you’re holding are on one side, and your lower back muscles are on the other.
Even when you’re standing upright, muscles on the back pull downward to keep the front of your body upright for stability.
When you bend forward (even a couple of inches), muscles all along your back and legs engage and pull on your upper body with about 100 pounds of force so you don’t fall forward. Again, that’s slightly bending forward holding no extra weight.
When you bend all the way down to pick up a bag of dog food off a pallet, for example, there’s often 300-500 pounds of force pulling on the muscles and ligaments in the lower back.
Considering how much bending and lifting active workers do every day, it’s no wonder that back pain is so prevalent.
No, back pain is not the problem
Back pain is the result of the problem – not the problem itself. The actual problem is the strain, fatigue, and wear and tear from the frequent forces and awkward postures that the spine endures while performing these necessary movements.
So no, back pain is not only caused simply by heavy lifting.
While there definitely are sudden back injuries that occur from heavy lifting, movements like bending also play a major role in the chronic back pain crisis that plagues American workers.
But what can we do about it?
Finding strategies to fix the problem
There are strategies for addressing back pain in the workplace that are either:
Reactive measures (e.g. surgery, opioids, ibuprofen, physical therapy, massage therapy, hot packs, ice, etc.)
Unrealistic measures (e.g. having workers use perfect body mechanics every time across)
Proven to be ineffective measures for injury prevention (e.g. back belts)
Safe bending and lifting techniques or warming up before work do help and reactive interventions must be taken when injuries happen. Trying to prevent injuries and caring for people after they suffer a back injury should be part of any safety program.
However, we must strive to find ways that are better than simply helping a little bit or when it’s already too late. That’s especially true since previous injuries are an important factor in predicting a future injury – lower back injuries included.
The best strategy? Address back injuries before they happen.
New tools like exosuits can tackle old problems
Companies big and small across the globe have already embraced exosuit technology as a way to protect their workers. What makes some exosuits on the market practical is they can comfortably provide that much-needed assistance for workers without compromising freedom of movement.
With any kind of occupational wearable, mobility and comfort are critical. That’s why many exosuits are designed with that kind of lightweight, practical wearability in mind – offering workers significant assistance when they need it and getting out of their way when they don’t.
Sites like ExoskeletonReport.com offer balanced and digestible information for those interested in learning more about exosuits.
It’s clear that America has a back pain problem and it’s not just heavy lifting that’s causing it. The necessary movements for active jobs, such as lifting and bending, can put a target on workers’ backs and boost the risk of chronic back pain.
The good news? Exosuits can help companies fight this billion-dollar back pain problem while promoting a healthier and safer workforce.