Watch What You Read About Preventing Back PainIt seems that whenever we read health news, there's at least one article that touts the newest and best way to prevent back pain, particularly back pain at work. Since back pain is one of the most common complaints of pain in the developed world, it's not surprising that so many people have an opinion on how best to handle it. But, there's one problem: there is no clear way to prevent back pain at work and there's no indication that work is causing it, according to researchers.
The authors of this article say that while there is no determined way to prevent back pain, there may be a place for goals that aim to reduce the effects of back pain, which include missing work and being disabled. That being said, even this area isn't as clear cut as they would like.
The topic has been addressed by many experts. Most recently, there was an editorial in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), by Niels Wedderkopp, MD, PhD, and Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde, DC, PhD. The authors wrote that it may take time before doctors are able to identify effective ways to prevent further pain and disability, though, since there are still many unknowns.
It's precisely because of all the uncertainty in the whole area of back pain and back care that companies can make some of the claims they do. For example, Forbes magazine recently ran an article titled "How to prevent pain at work." In this article, the author appeared to let people believe it's a known fact that back pain is a repetitive stress disorder, with the idea that the majority of people spend the majority of their time at work. If you calculate the number of hours in a day, most people don't spend more hours at work than anywhere else.
The author also blamed physical activity and different actions at work as the root cause of most back pain. Research has shown that there are some causes of back pain that can be traced back to work, but it's not been shown in any way that it's the main cause. The author mentions other factors that may increase the risk of back pain, but again, without any scientific back up.
While you should always be aware of your back and how your lifestyle may contribute to back pain, if you have it, the author of the Forbes' article continued on about solutions for back pain at work. They included examining their habits to see what may be causing the pain, avoid sitting too long or too much, move about regularly at half hour intervals, examine their workspace for ergonomic correction, avoiding unnecessary stress, and finally, stretching throughout the day.
While many of these suggestions may sound good, they haven't been proven to help reduce the incidence or the severity of back pain in the workplace. For example, exercise is necessary for a healthy and strong back. However, what type of exercise and/or stretching you do greatly depends on the type of back injury and pain you have. Doing the wrong exercise or the right exercise incorrectly could cause more harm than good.
The recommendation to limit sitting time is something that Jan Hartivigson, DC, PhD, and his colleagues studied in 2000. Their findings couldn't connect the length of time sitting as a risk factor for back pain. Another study done in 2007, by Angela M. Lis, PT, MTA, and colleagues, found limited evidence of sitting being a risk for back pain. And, this was only in occupations in which people were sitting for more than half a day and were either using awkward postures or poses, or their work environment caused vibrations. Sitting, by itself, wasn't a risk factor.
Ergonomic chairs are a big seller these days as it seems like everyone is recommending them to reduce back pain. Unfortunately, in many cases, the people buying these chairs may just be wasting their money. In a set of guidelines called the European Guidelines on Prevention in Low Back Pain, released recently, there was no evidence that could support buying one particular ergonomic chair over another in order to prevent back pain.
Other comments by the author of the article were ideas that have been thrown out but never proven, such as being sure your wallet isn't in your back pocket when you sit. There was an idea that this would cause a back problem called wallet sciatica, but again, this has never been proven.
All in all, it seems that back pain recommendations can be pulled out of the blue and sold to the general public because there isn't any one set "this is what causes back pain."
How to Prevent Back Pain at Work - Or Not. In The Back Letter. November 2008. Vol. 23. No. 11. Pp. 124.
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