Is Your Job Giving You Low Back Pain?

occupational back pain

Is your job giving you back pain?

There are many factors that contribute to low back pain.  Some obvious, some not so.  But in many cases, these factors are under your control.

However, without some serious reworking of your life, you occupation is not easily changed.  But does your job contribute to your back pain?  Sometimes.

I hear it almost daily.  “If I just had a job that I didn’t have to sit all the time.”  “If I just had a job where I could sit down.”  The truth is that we are designed to be out hunting boars and gathering berries.  Not a whole lot of job openings for these positions, however.

I consider myself very lucky because my job has me up and down, sitting and standing, bending and straightening, pretty much all day long (unless I happen to be doing a blog post at my computer, of course).

There has been no real clarity in studies over the years looking for factors that predispose to the development of back pain.  Nothing can be clearly identified in a pre-employment physical that would indicate that a worker is more likely to suffer injuries.

However, there has been a consistent pattern over the studies on workman’s compensation injuries; those who are not happy with their jobs or feel unempowered are more likely to suffer an injury.  Not that anyone is faking an injury because he or she does not like his or her job; rather, this reflects the complex interplay between the mind and the body when it comes to pain.

This particular study, however, seems able to add some insight.  In it, researchers looked at 2,161 men working in various occupations across France who were followed across 5 years.  Twenty-one biomechanical, organizational, psychosocial, and individual factors were assessed in the first survey.  Five years later, in the second survey of these workers, they were asked about low back pain during the previous week.

Here’s what they found:

  • 394 (30.0%) men had low back pain in the second survey.
  • Frequent forward-only bending increased the risk of low back pain by 45%.
  • Frequent forward-and-sideways bending increased the risk 213%.
  • Driving industrial vehicles increased the risk 35%.
  • Working more hours than officially planned increased risk 38%.
  • Reported low support from supervisors increased risk 35%.

Notice that psychological factors showed up on this list again (low management support and working longer hours than planned).

There are other, general factors that play a role in low back pain.  Things like smoking and a sedentary lifestyle play a role in back pain, but these are easily modifiable.  If your occupation requires any of the behaviors or movements noted above, there is going to be a challenge.

The best you can do is manage your workstation, using back posture support devices when possible or lumbar support cushions if your job requires prolonged sitting or driving.  If you happen to own a company that uses team members who have to perform these repetitive movements, it might be well worth your while to invest in an ergonomic evaluation to see if any changes can be made to the workstation to minimize your team’s risk of low back pain.


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.