An overview of back pain at work

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.

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
  • perform 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, those who are obese and/or generally inactive.

How can you help employees experiencing back pain at work?

Encourage and support worker wellbeing

Your employee’s health and wellbeing can impact on back pain and how they manage it. Providing wellness initiatives that promote and support healthy lifestyles, such a maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, regular exercise, stress management and adequate sleep, is of benefit.

Encourage a variety of postures and tasks

We know that the body is designed to be used in different positions and to do a variety of tasks. It is important to encourage your workers to vary their work postures, positions and tasks throughout the working day, and to consider what they may be doing outside of work that could be contributing to their symptoms. In jobs involving repetitive actions and/or sustained postures, ensure task variation/rotation is utilised.

Maintain good communication with your employee

Lack of communication between your employee and their manager and colleagues can have a negative effect on their back pain and return to work. Encourage your employee to discuss any concerns they might have, problem solve together and ensure you maintain regular communication if they are off work.

Promote and support ‘Stay at Work’

Where possible, support your employee to remain at work whilst they are recovering from back pain. If they are unable to manage their current role, determine which tasks they can do or consider appropriate alternative duties or reduced hours. If you are unsure what is available, consider involving an occupational therapist or occupational physiotherapist to assess your employee in their workplace and provide a suitable plan to assist them stay or return to work.

If you would like to discuss how our team can help your employees manage their 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 many 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.