The National Safety Council ranked both repetitive motion injuries and overexertion injuries in the “Top 10 Preventable Workplace Incidents” in 2013. Both of these types of injuries can result in back sprains and strains, time off work, and dollars spent on both treatment and lost wages. Just as trainers and coaches work with athletes to ensure they are ready and conditioned for the season to prevent injuries, we must work with employees to make sure they know what a back sprain or strain is, and how to prevent it.
Our Back is Complex
Our back is made up of many pieces that come together to create a complex structure of bones and muscles that are supported by cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. As we go through our day walking, running, lifting, bending, and twisting, our back bears the majority of our body’s weight. This explains why at the end of the day pain, strains, and sprains are common in the lower back.
What is a Sprain?
A sprain is the stretching or wearing of a ligament that occurs with repetitive movement of the joint. The ligament, a fibrous band of tissue, connects two or more bones in our back. When these bones stretch the ligament between them the ligament will fray, similar to a rope that has too much tension. This stretching over time will cause pain.
What is a Strain?
A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is pulled, twisted, or even slightly torn. Tendons are also fibrous bands, but they connect muscle to bone. When this pulling or twisting occurs, a sharp pain is often felt at the time of the initial injury.
The symptoms of both a sprain and strain are the same. Usually, the pain worsens with movement. Some people will also experience muscle spasms or cramping and, if severe enough, may notice a decrease in the ability to walk, bend or twist.
Ways to Prevent Sprains and Strains
The workplace is one of the most common places for a back sprain or strain to occur. We must teach our employees to prevent these injuries from ever happening. The best action we can take as employers is injury prevention. Below is a list of preventative tips for back sprains and strains:
- When lifting, always bend at the knees and use the strength of the legs to lift. This keeps the back muscles safe and prevents over-stretching.
- Carry all loads in the “powerhouse” region, which is from the mid-thigh to mid-chest area of the body. Keep the load close to the body and the back straight.
- Be realistic about what is safe to carry. This may require that your employee ask for help or break large loads into smaller loads and make more trips.
- If your employee must turn when carrying an item, encourage them to turn the entire body instead of turning at the waist. This simple measure prevents the muscles and tendons from being stretched or injured.
- Encourage employees to change positions and take stretch breaks often during the work day. It does not matter if they stand or sit to work, the muscles need periods of rest and changes in position.
By following these simple, yet effective, prevention measures you can keep your employees and your team safe, healthy and productive while at work.