Work Related Low back disorders (LBDs) continue to be the most common musculoskeletal problem in the workplace. It affects many workers, is associated with high costs to industry and the individual, and can negatively influence the quality of life for the workers. Up to 80% of adults will eventually experience back pain at some time during their life and 4 -5% of the population has an acute low back pain episode every year.

 Who is at risk?

   First, personal factors play a role in risk of experiencing a LBD. It is important to separate personal factors from occupational factors so that one can distinguish risk associated with work from that associated with individual characteristics. 

Personal risk factors associated with low back pain: 

  • Age.
  • Sex.
  • Pervious history.
  • Duration of pain.
  • Household income/uneployment.
  • Smoking.
  • Headache.

 Risk factors at work

  • Lifting/forceful movement.
  • Awkward posture.
  • Heavy physical work.
  • Whole body vibration.
  • Static work posture.

Mechanisms to low back disorders

   It is necessary to understand the mechanisms of LBD in order to develop an effective means to control LBD at work . Restoring a painful back begins with a detailed assessment in order to reveal the cause of pain.

 Anatomical sources of pain in the low back

  • Discogenic pain.
  • Sacroiliac joint.
  • Facets.
  • Muscles.
  • Hip pain. 

Prevention Strategies

   Ergonomic work interventions that can prevent WRLBDs generally involves training aimed at reducing awkward postures, minimising the levels of mechanical forces applied and reducing the number of repetitive motion patterns. This can be accomplished by analysing the tasks that have to be carried out.

 Basic ergonomic principles

  • Keep joints in neutral (natural) position during work (no bending, twisting or overstretching).
  • Avoid unnecessary movements.
  • Keep arms and hands close to the body while lifting or manipulating an object.
  • Before lifting, put your feet in such a way that the load is as close as possible to the body. When lifting, keep your back in the natural curve, use the muscles of your legs and abdomen to lift the weight. In this position there will be less strain on the low back ligaments, it minimises disc compression and the overall strength requirements and there is a clear mechanical advantage (small lever of the load). This way of lifting requires a good physical condition (strength leg muscles).
  • Slow lift movement cause less (peak) compressive force on the intervertebral discs.
  • During carrying it is also important to keep the load close to the body.
  • To push or pull loads, it is important to start the movement slowly: this requires less initial force. The force has to be delivered by the muscles of the legs and to use the body weight to move the load.

Anastasios M. Margaritis
Occupational Health& Safety Specialist.
Bsc Physiotherapy & Sports Science.
Orthopaedic Manual Therapist.
Back Mechanic Specialist.