If you’ve experienced back pain, you’re definitely not alone. An estimated 80% of people in the UK encounter back pain at least once in their lives, with close to 50% suffering from a bout of back pain lasting longer than 24 hours. These statistics are quite similar around the world, with lower back pain cited as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Back pain causes a huge loss of productivity at work: over 100 million lost days annually in the UK and US. Ironically, the back pain that causes this loss of work hours is often caused by the job itself!
Back injury is the second most common type of work-related injury. This includes lower back discomfort and numbness over lower limb due to pinched nerves, severe pain caused by bulging or herniated discs. Occupations which involve strenuous physical movements such as construction work, pose a higher risk. Here, back injury often occurs from a single act, usually the twisting, or over-extension, of the spine when pushing, pulling or lifting.
People who stand for long hours, like nursing, surgeons and checkout cashiers, also face a greater risk of back injury. Office workers are not in the clear either. Many back issues are caused by sitting for long periods with bad posture. In jobs involving repetitive motions, or prolonged sitting or standing, back-injuries are likely to result from long-term strain on the spinal vertebrae or on ligaments and muscles in the back.
Back pain can be associated with stiffness or numbness to excruciating pain which requires a trip to the ER. Acute back pain which appears quickly and can be extremely painful usually heals within two months. Chronic back pain, on the other hand, is a long-term issue. It can start as a very mild ache but may progress and can go on for years. Regardless of the type of back pain, the end result for most sufferers is a lower quality of life, with some experiencing total disability.
As the back is made up of a complex system of muscles, nerves, bones, spinal discs and tendons, there are many conditions which can cause pain. One such cause is nerve irritation and impingement, involving the large nerves connecting the back to the legs (sciatic nerve), or the smaller nerves in the back. Other causes are strain of the erector spinae muscles in the lower back, bone, ligament or joint damage and disc degeneration.
If you’re between 30 and 60, back pain is likely due to muscular or other soft tissue strain, or pain from the spinal disc space itself.
Treatments for back pain depend on its cause. For sciatica, you may be medicated to reduce inflammation and pain or relax muscle spasms. For sciatic pain from a ruptured or herniated disc, your doctor may recommend a steroid injection into the area surrounding the spinal nerve, or even surgery. Physiotherapy, including exercise and massage, or ultrasound treatment may also be recommended.
Although previously seen as a last-resort, surgical techniques to relieve back issues have improved significantly. Surgery to treat a pinched nerve is minimally invasive with a recovery period of three to four weeks. Other back-related surgical procedures are discectomy and disc-replacement surgery, to deal with spinal disc damage, as well as interlaminar implant and laminectomy, to reduce pain by relieving pressure on the spinal nerves.
If you’re suffering from back pain, whether mild or severe, the most important thing to do is to see a doctor. Early medical attention will help identify the cause of the pain and prevent the condition from progressing further to where more invasive treatment may be needed. Your doctor will advise you on ways to minimise strain at work, or recommend physiotherapy to strengthen back muscles or correct postural issues. There’s also plenty of information on office ergonomics and habits that can help protect your back.
For more serious back conditions which require procedures, treatment may be costly. If the condition is work-related, seek advice on your eligibility for compensation to cover treatment costs. Another option is to go abroad, where you can have access to cutting-edge procedures and experienced specialists at a fraction of the cost. Since long-term back pain can be debilitating, sufferers tend to experience a great deal of stress, unhappiness or even depression. A nice holiday in a sunny location, while undergoing treatment, might be just what the doctor ordered!
With millions of adults around the world suffering from back pain, it’s clear that this is one symptom you should take seriously. At work, try to adopt habits that are back-friendly and educate yourself on how to reduce strain on your back. If you’re already experiencing back ache of some sort, seek medical advice quickly. Often, people dismiss back pain as a normal sign of aging, when it could actually be a symptom of a work-related injury. Sure, work may not always be fun, but it definitely shouldn’t be hurting your back.