If you do a lot of standing work, this article is for you! When we are standing we need to bend down to pick up objects or stretch up to get overhead objects.
In all of these instances there is an increase in the forces on the lower back, and that's when an injury is most likely to occur. Learn how to avoid injury by following these tips for standing work..
According to the latest injury figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, each year there are over 880,000 cases of back injuries that account for 1 in 4 nonfatal occupational injuries involving days away from work. In most sectors of industry, back injuries now rank either second or third overall (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1998).
Over our lifetimes, 8 out of 10 people will experience a back injury and back pain. Most back injuries are painful, debilitating, and life changing. As a former sufferer, I know firsthand how important it is to learn how to improve the health of the spine and take steps to prevent back injury. Training to prevent low back disorders requires both a working understanding of the spine and knowledge of back injury risk factors.
The spine is a flexible structure that consists of 24 movable bones, called vertebrae (7 in the neck, 12 in the chest, 5 in the lower back) that are connected by tough ligaments and separated by pads of cartilage, called intervertebral discs, that act as shock absorbers and allow the flexible movement of the spine, especially at the neck and the lower back.
When we are standing, the spine naturally curves both inwards and outwards. The inward curve, a position called lordosis, curves towards the front of the body at the lower back and neck regions. The outward curve, a position called kyphosis, curves towards the back of the body at the chest. Whenever we bend over, while standing, the five lumbar vertebrae of the lower back change position and shift from being in lordosis to being in kyphosis when we are completely bent over. The lumbar vertebrae change position again as we stand up from being bent over returning to lordosis position. Think about how much you move around and bend during a normal day. The lower back is probably the most used part of the spine, which likely accounts for the fact that low back pain and injury disorders are the most common back complaints.
Causes of Low Back Pain:
In a review of the research literature, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health concluded that "muscle strain is probably the most common type of work or nonwork back pain" (Bernard, 1997). That's good news for ergonomists because it means that we can investigate ways to reduce the effort of work to minimize injury risks.
The health of the intervertebral discs plays a major role in back injuries. If discs are damaged and begin to degenerate, the back loses flexibility and the capacity to absorb the daily forces associated with standing, moving and working. Intervetebral discs don't have a normal blood supply, instead, as the discs change shape as we move around, nutrients are drawn into the discs and waste products are pumped out. Moving the body helps this process by intermittently changing the forces on the discs. Moving around helps to keep the spine healthy.
What are the risk factors for low back injuries?
With data from over 40 research studies we now have a pretty good idea of the major risk factors for back injuries. These factors are:
These work-related risks for injuries can occur separately or in some combination. The more of these factors happening at any one time the greater the risk of injury.
What does all this mean for Standing Work?
When we are standing, the pressure on the intervertebral discs of the lower back is fairly low, much lower than say when we sit unsupported on uncomfortable bleachers. But, standing uses about 20% more energy than sitting, so we get tired more quickly and look to sit down. When we are standing we need to bend down to pick up objects or stretch up to get overhead objects. In all of these instances there is an increase in the forces on the lower back, and that's when an injury is most likely to occur.
5 Tips to minimize injury risks during Standing Work.
The following tips will help you to minimize your risks of low back injury when you are doing standing work: