Nearly 40 million Americans – or more than 25 percent of the workforce – suffer from chronic lower back pain, according to new research. Millions of workers, particularly those in heavy labor-related jobs, either miss work or are forced to change jobs every year because of their pain.
However, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center’s orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Shall said there is help for those who suffer from work-related back pain and tips to avoid injury on the job.
“The most important thing, whether a patient is rehabbing from back injury or trying to avoid a work-related injury, is having adequate core strength,” Dr. Shall said. “Even if a person regularly goes to the gym, they may not be appropriately working the core muscles. Particularly as a person gets older, we need more muscle around the spine to protect us from injury.”
To strengthen core muscles in the back, it is not necessary to invest in an expensive gym membership or at-home equipment. For his patients, Dr. Shall recommends beginning with supermans, which require the patient to lie on his or her stomach on a carpeted floor or mat with arms extended overheard and toes pointed. Raising the arms and feet above the floor 4-5 inches, the patient holds for 2 seconds in sets of 12-15. For beginners, the exercise can be modified, raising one arm and the opposite leg at a time.
“In recent years, lifting belts have fallen out of favor because there is a myth that using them can weaken your back muscles,” Dr. Shall said. “This simply isn’t true and, in fact, using a lifting belt for labor-intensive jobs can make a big difference in preventing back injury and relieving back pain. The key is in knowing how to use the belts.”
Lifting belts should be tight around the mid-section, but not so tight that you cannot expand your midsection when taking a deep breath. As you bend with your knees to begin to lift a package or object, the belly should be pushed into the belt, reducing the stress on the spine.
Dr. Shall works with patients in his office or in conjunction with physical therapy to ensure they are placing and using the lifting belt properly.
Proper Lifting Technique
“The worst thing people do is to lift a heavy object and twist at the same time,” Dr. Shall said. “This motion, accompanied by the strain of the lift, can cause damage to the disc and or herniation. This type of back strain can create debilitating pain, often sending patients to the emergency room.”
Rather than twisting, Dr. Shall said, workers should keep their back straight with head up, lifting with the knees. As the lift begins, stomach muscles should be tightened to support the spine. Most importantly, if the object needs to be moved to the side, shuffle the feet to the side, rather than twisting at the waist.
Find Experienced Care Provider
In the event a patient does experience work-related back pain, it is critical to find a trained spine expert who can work in partnership to treat and relieve the pain. Dr. Shall works cooperatively with Northeast Ohio’s chiropractic community to comprehensively treat back injury and incorporates physical therapy as a first-line treatment for back pain.
And, finally, if an injury is work related, it is important to find a doctor experienced in helping patients navigate the complicated workers’ compensation claims process.
“Carefully documenting a diagnosis – and having the experience to do it the right way – is key to ensuring the workers’ compensation claim is filed and approved quickly,” Dr. Shall said. “If the injury is not documented properly, the patient often has to wait for treatment, all the while losing strength as they wait.”
Through his more than 30 years working with workers’ compensation related claims, Dr. Shall has a thorough understanding of the documentation process and works with patients to help ensure expeditious approval of their claims. In addition, he has long-standing relationships with workers’ compensation attorneys to collaborate on behalf of his patients.
“We are all trying to get the patient treated and back to work,” Dr. Shall said. “We – The doctor, the chiropractor, the attorney, the physical therapist – the team collaborate to get the patient better. If we don’t work together, then that doesn’t happen.”