29 Sep 2022
by Ashley Easen

Awareness days are effective in the promotion of a wide selection of subjects and causes and can stimulate enhanced public knowledge and engagement.

Firmly established within the international awareness calendar, Back Care Awareness Week will take place between 3 and 7 October 2022.

In order to fully appreciate the value of this particular awareness campaign, we need to understand the contextual factors. By far the most prominent factor, back pain is considered to be the leading cause of disability worldwide, with approximately 90% of the global population affected at some point in their lifetime.

For those of us who can already count ourselves as part of that affected 90%, we understand the disruptive influence that back pain can cause to daily lives. It can dramatically limit our capabilities within the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Once active lifestyles can be dramatically reduced. Back pain can and does lead to anxiety, depression and disability.

Anyone can develop back pain at any stage of their life, including children and young adults.

Factors that can increase the risk of back pain include:

  • Age - back pain becomes more prevalent as people get older.
  • Excess weight can place people’s backs under additional stress.
    Lack of fitness -weak muscles in the abdomen and back can lead to back pain.
  • Smoking - smokers maintain an increased risk of back pain.
  • Disease - some health conditions and disease can cause back pain.
  • Improper lifting - improper lifting techniques can lead to injury and back pain.
  • Mental health - people suffering with anxiety or depression appear to be at greater risk of back pain.

In the UK workplace, musculoskeletal disorders, including back injury and associated pain, are a significant risk to workers, especially those employed within manual occupations.

As of 2021, it was reported that 470,000 workers in the UK were suffering from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (new or long-standing). Of this number, back injury accounted for approximately 182,000 cases. While it may be no surprise that ‘construction’ activities maintain the highest estimated prevalence rate for musculoskeletal disorders within the UK, ‘human health and social work activities’ was also considered to be above the national average.

Risk factors to look out for in the workplace can include:

  • Lifting heavy or bulky loads.
  • Pushing, pulling or dragging heavy loads.
  • Repetitive tasks.
  • Bending, crouching or stooping.
  • Stretching, twisting and reaching.
  • Working beyond physical capability.

To protect workers, employers in the UK are required to:

  • Avoid work activities that can cause back pain, where it is reasonably practicable to do so.
  • Assess such activities that cannot be avoided to identify what can be done to reduce the risk of back pain to workers.
  • Implement any control measures that have been identified through the risk assessment.
  • Monitor and review the controls at regular frequencies to gain assurance of their effectiveness.

It is a requirement for employers to consult with their workers and respond to any health and safety concerns reported to them.

While for the majority of employers, protecting their workers’ health and wellbeing is motivation enough to do all that is reasonably practicable to control the risks associated with back injury and back pain. However, for those that need additional motivation, is it worthwhile to consider that back injuries and back pain can be very costly for employers too as they may lead to prolonged absences from the workplace, reduced productivity, disruption to services, as well as the potential for the payment of fines and compensation.

Outside of the workplace, there are strategies that we can all adopt to reduce the personal risk of back pain:

  • Exercise. Regular low-impact aerobic activities can be hugely beneficial.
  • Walking and swimming are good options to consider.
  • Improve muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises help condition the right muscle groups.
  • Lose the excess weight. Excess body weight reduction can help prevent back pain.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of lower back pain, so quit if
  • possible.
  • Posture. Don't slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvic position.
  • Sit well. Choose a chair with good lower back support and armrests.
  • Lift well. Avoid heavy lifting. If unavoidable, let the legs do the work, not the back.

Early diagnosis and treatment can often lead to a full recovery being experienced by the majority people suffering from back pain. GPs and Occupational Health Departments can provide invaluable assistance to sufferers of back pain, but only once the issue is presented to them. So, this year, lets embrace and promote Back Care Awareness week with the hope and expectation that it may lead to the reduction in people suffering from the condition.