by Mark Rainey, MD, MPH and William Dempsey, MBA
Mid-State Occupational Health Services
This week (April 2-8) is officially National Workplace Wellness Week in workplaces across the country. In 2008, the House and Senate passed accompanying resolutions recognizing the importance of workplace wellness.
Unfortunately, low back pain is very common, with approximately 25 percent of American adults having low back pain lasting at least one day over the past three months. Back pain happens both at work and home. Preventative measures, such as stretch programs and ergonomic interventions, are important when discussing workplace wellness. Treatment of these injuries and return-to-work programs are also an integral part of workplace wellness programs.
The American College of Physicians recently released updated guidelines for the treatment of low back pain in the Annals of Internal Medicine that emphasize conservative treatment. Low back pain is very common and happens to nearly all of us, much like the common cold. When you get a cold, hesitate before you run out and buy cough and cold preparations that can cause side effects such as fatigue, drowsiness and high blood pressure. Perhaps chicken soup and some honey throat lozenges are all you need to get through. The same approach can be taken with most episodes of back pain. A heat pack or massage may be all you need. You will get better. You may have to back off some heavy physical activities or avoid moving that old heavy sofa into the basement for a week or two.
Medication is commonly used as initial treatment. Tylenol usually doesn’t help and if you can avoid ibuprofen, all the better. Muscle relaxers are rarely needed and the side effects of drowsiness are unpleasant. The guidelines also support interesting non-drug approaches to back pain such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture. Other recommendations may be a nice nature walk or listening to relaxing music. On rare occasions, back pain can be serious. Back pain from accidents, such as falls or motor vehicle accidents, may signal a fracture. If you have a fever, weight loss, history of cancer, blood in the urine, pain is worse at night, you cannot get some comfort in any position, or other major medical problems, you should seek medical attention.
Employers can best help employees work through a back pain injury at work by communicating with their occupational health partner to provide support and explore options for modified work or light duty.
Mid-State Occupational Health has been a Chamber member since 2008.