Helpful Information on the Work Place and Back Injuries

Prevention of Back Injuries and Associated Disability

It is often perceived that low back arises suddenly, but it often actually develops slowly over a long time period. 

Work Station Design

Low back pain can be triggered by jobs which involve repetitive tasks such as constant lifting, carrying and bending.  When the number of work injuries in a particular department is high, it is often advisable to take a close look at work place design.  Most work stations tend to be designed for people who are between five feet six inches and five feet ten inches tall.   The worst mistake a company can make when it comes to office ergonomics is to buy the same non adjustable chair for every employee - that is a recipe for disaster.

Pre-employment Physical Ability Testing

It is a good idea to determine if a worker can physically perform the required job tasks of their position.  This would be a step that can go a long way in eliminating back pain and disability.  For jobs that require significant lifting, a Work Hardening Program (Note to Natalie: link work hardening program to appropriate new page with new content) to build strength and tolerance is definitely suggested.  This involves starting with lighter loads and gradually working up to lifting heavier ones.  It is important to be properly educated on the proper way to lift.

Redesigning jobs can cost little or no money but can save a lot of money in the end. For example, making boxes slightly smaller makes it easier for the employee to lift alone.  Adding a fairly frictionless piece of material to the end of a conveyor belt is also a great idea so workers can slide boxes along, rather than having to pick them up and carry them to the next station.

Exercise and Stress Reduction

Exercise is a very important factor in building up tolerance for back pain and therefore reduces disability.  Stretching and strengthening programs in the workplace can help prevent injuries and disability.  Jobs that entail a lot of repetitive movement leave muscles stuck in a pattern.  Often the muscles become overused and at the same time, other muscles become underused.  This muscle imbalance invariably leads to pain. A muscle spasm is the body’s way of telling us to pay attention to how we are doing something, stop it and find another way.

The importance of stretches at work is paramount.  A few stress reducing exercises while sitting at work, for example, include shoulder rolls, neck rolls, toe touches and standing back extensions.  Exercise also helps to increase endorphins which lead to happier employees and a more productive work environment.  Whether it is running, yoga, pilates, walking or lifting weights, a regular exercise program is essential in keeping a person healthy, active and physically and mentally balanced.

Neck and Arm Disorders

Next to low back pain, neck pain is a very common injury related to many types of jobs.  This comes with stiffness often, as well as radiating arm pain, shoulder pain and tingling and numbness.
Risk factors for neck and arm pain include poor posture, repetitive motion, handling heavy loads, and equally important, psychosocial factors.


Workers exposed to tasks that require working over shoulder level are very susceptible to rotator cuff tendinitis and impingement syndrome.  Neck flexion while working at a visual display terminal may be associated with neck and shoulder symptoms as well.  

Prevention and Management

Technique training can be helpful to reduce stressors of posture, motion and load handling.  Rests and breaks should be organized to allow recovery.  Additionally, ergonomic changes to the environment can make a huge difference in work injury rates.

In generally, patients recover from an acute episode in days to a few weeks and require little treatment.  Early treatment should include information about back pain and its excellent prognosis, and help with control of symptoms, including advice on activity.

Regarding activity level, some degree of activity restriction is often necessary to reduce symptoms severity.  This can often be accomplished by modifying work activities and work postures, while allowing the person to continue working.  Early return to work is critical to prevent prolonged disability and should be emphasized as being part of the recovery process. Activity restrictions often include limitations on amount to be lifted, and how much a person can twist and bend.  Restrictions should only be in place for a short period, such as 2-4 weeks.


Nonspecific low back pain is a self-limiting disorder that resolves quickly in over 90 percent of cases.  The rate of recurrence, however, is a very high one... 90 percent.  This fact emphasizes the importance of education and consistent back fitness to prevent further injuries.
If workers have been off the job for longer than six months, it is estimated that here is only a fifty percent possibility of ever returning to productive employment.... and over one year it reduces to twenty five percent!
EARLY RETURN TO WORK is now considered an important part to the therapy.  There are many reasons why workers do not go back to work. 
These can include:

  1. patient motivation
  2. illness behavior
  3. problem of identifying and providing modified work
  4. the unwillingness by employers to accept worker back unless they are fully recovered
  5. difficulties imposed by rigid work rules
  6. inappropriate treatment by health practitioners
  7. legal advice to accept a lump sum settlement instead of a rehabilitation program.

Our primary assessment locations include:

Queen West Physiotherapy
345 Queen Street West
Brampton, Ontario
L6Y 3A9
Albion Hills Physiotherapy
18 King Street East
Bolton, Ontario
L6Y 3A9
ProHealth Physiotherapy
1230 Tynegrove Road
Mississauga, Ontario
L4W 3A3



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