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Back pain is the most frequent and costly musculoskeletal complaint in Western societies, responsible for approximately 40 percent of missed work days.

People with back problems can suffer ongoing pain and associated loss in function for long periods and for many, the problem keeps coming back. A small number go on to develop significant chronic pain with serious lifelong implications on their employment and quality of life.

So, what is it about back pain that causes everyone so many problems?

The first issue is that it can be very difficult to work out the precise cause of the problem. By most estimates, health professionals can only identify an exact anatomical cause of back pain in less than 20 percent of cases.

That means that in the remaining 80 percent of people experiencing back pain, there appears to be no clear damage to the spine which could be responsible for the pain.

This in itself isn’t really a problem—but we live in a society where we expect answers and the endless (and often fruitless) search for a diagnosis can be a costly and frustrating experience for all involved.

The other problem we have is that back pain ‘just happens’. The majority of people with back pain develop symptoms gradually over a period of time, without a sudden event that causes the problem.

It is worth noting, there are some key groups that are more susceptible to developing back pain at work. This includes those:

  • Involved in heavy manual labour;
  • Performing tasks that are beyond their physical capabilities;
  • With low control over their job;
  • Required to stand for prolonged periods;
  • Maintaining awkward lifting squatting/kneeling postures.

There is also an associated increased risk of back pain for smokers, and those who are obese and/or generally inactive.

Our top tips on managing back pain at work

We now know that back pain just happens, and it is difficult to determine the exact cause and diagnosis; however, the good news is that the vast majority of people with back pain will get better.

  • Focus on your wellbeing. Your health and wellbeing can impact on back pain and how you are able to manage it. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such a maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, regular exercise, stress management and adequate sleep, is of benefit.
  • Try to vary your work environment. Our body is designed to be used in different positions and to do a variety of tasks. It is important to vary work postures, positions and tasks throughout the working day.
  • Report pain, discomfort and injury to your employer early. The sooner the symptoms and issues are reported to your employer, the better the outcome for you.
  • Ask your employer for support. Back problems can have a significant effect on your life, both in and out of work. It may be that you need to ask to do alternative duties, reduced hours, special equipment or some time off to help you recover faster.
  • Work together with your employer to solve the problem. Work with your employer to identify and address possible factors that may be contributing to your symptoms, both at work and outside of work.
  • Reach out and ask for help. Utilise the expertise of health professionals (such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists) to provide support with your back pain to help you manage your pain and plan a strategy for returning back to work.

If you would like to discuss how our team can help you manage your back pain, we are happy to help. We’re just a phone call away on 0800 824 432 and are conveniently located across New Zealand in 21 locations.

You can be assured that you have access to the country’s largest team of health professionals, supporting you with recovery at home, at work or within our national network of clinics.