Back pain has become so prevalent that it's unlikely that even small-business employers are unaffected at this point.
As published in the American Journal of Public Health, back pain is second only to the common cold as the most frequent cause for sick leave in addition to being the most common reason for filing workers' compensation claims. About half of all working Americans report having back pain each year, and that number is climbing. The issue affects employees of every type, from warehouse workers to office staff to delivery drivers. That's because there are numerous factors that can cause issues:
Poor ergonomics: Ordinary work activities done with inappropriate ergonomics might seem fine for a few weeks, but over the course of months or years, they add up to back trouble. For example, reaching and placing a box on a pallet can stress the back and lead to injury.
Repetitive movement: When people think of activities that cause back pain, they may picture bad twists or lifting heavy loads. While those can both be causes, so can prolonged postures in the same position, or repeatedly using the same muscles for working on a piece of equipment. Also inactivity, can be very strenuous for the back because it prevents the needed and natural movement in the spine that keeps those structures, such as spinal discs, healthy.
Stress and lifestyle choices: Anxiety, poor sleep, tension and other signs of stress can dramatically limit pain coping abilities and increases maladaptive behaviors that lead to costly claims The situation can become exacerbated by lifestyle choices that are undertaken to relieve stress, such as unhealthy eating habits and smoking.
Aging: As people age, spinal structures naturally degenerate, causing stiffness. But back pain doesn't need to be an inevitable part of aging, especially if lifestyle interventions are put into place. An older person who has good ergonomics, eats healthy foods, stays active, doesn't smoke, and maintains a normal weight will be in a much better position than someone decades younger who follows none of those behaviors.
As incidence of back pain increase, the results may be devastating to an employer. Not only is there risk of lowered productivity and higher absenteeism, but chronic pain could also set up employees for opioid misuse, which makes the issue much more complex.
Understanding the extent of the back pain problem, and how it might be affecting your organization is vital for putting prevention strategies into place. Back pain may be epidemic in the larger workforce, but with prevention and education, it doesn’t have to plague your employees.
“FFW is awesome. I had a pain in my neck from lifting something at work, I went to see them and within 5 minutes my neck was better.” - Maintenance Technician