The cost of absence and lost productivity due to back injury or pain is a major consideration for many organisations. This week is back care awareness week so here are 7 ways that you can help everyone in your organisation take care of their back every day.
1) Keep everyone moving
Sitting still has been referred to as the new smoking. There are many reasons why being rooted to the spot for hours on end can negatively affect your health, and compromising on good back care is one of them.
The more you move, the more likely it is that muscles will stay warm and supple, reducing any tightness in the lower back, mid back, neck and shoulders. Regular activity is also important because the discs between your vertebrae don’t actually have a blood supply meaning that frequent movement is the best way to ensure they remain in optimum condition.
Suggest that employees set an alarm to remind them to get moving every 20-30 minutes but don't be concerned about people moving away from their workstation or compromising on productivity. They won’t have to go far (actually just standing and moving on the spot can be enough) and the physical activity will help staff clear their head and enable them to work more efficiently throughout the entire day. If you're really worried about losing any productive time they could take a work issue with them to think about and resolve as they walk around the office or around the block.
2) Help them engage with activity levels required for optimum back care
Whatever working environments are found in your organisation – whether staff are desk-based, working on a production line, carrying out manual roles, working in a lab or spending lots of time in a vehicle or traveling – there are always opportunities for every individual to stay active, and outlining some clear targets in this area can be a real help.
It might be as simple as encouraging people to achieve the recommended 10,000 steps a day but with a structured framework like this you, and they, will be amazed at how they suddenly become able to spot opportunities to get moving like never before.
The daily step challenges we organise for clients most often result in people walking more as part of their commute, or moving around more regularly to speak to colleagues or retrieve the things they need, both at work and at home. Even if it means some people merely take a few steps back and forth while on the phone, this all contributes to enhanced spinal health and by tracking this activity with a pedometer, phone App or gadget, everyone can build up an understanding of the frequency of movement they need to keep their back in great shape.
Keep in mind too that any extra physical activity will help with oxygen flow, creative thinking and productivity.
3) Provide employees with a back care survival kit
A wellness day or series of wellbeing events can showcase a whole range of techniques that employees can use to keep their back strong and healthy. Initiatives can include back care workshops for groups, back care clinics for individual consultations and treatment, massage taster treatments, health checks, and sample sessions of yoga and Pilates.
Regular initiatives and education over time will enable each of your staff to put together the range of techniques, stretches, treatments, exercises and movements that will lower their risk of injury or increase their chances of quickly fixing any issues that arise.
4) Stretch your staff
Or at least provide them with the resources they need to stretch themselves. Stretching after exercise is generally encouraged but what’s even better is stretching regularly as part of an everyday routine.
A simple stretching plan that starts at the top of the body relaxing the neck and shoulders, moves down to open up the chest and back, and includes a few moves to ease tension in the lower torso and legs can easily be broken up into bite-sized chunks to be performed at intervals through the day.
One or two stretches every 30-minutes will prevent any unnecessary stiffness building up, particularly in the back, and will dramatically reduce the risk of injury. It’ll also help everyone feel more comfortable as they go about their daily tasks.
5) Teach them to think before they move
Encourage employees for just one week to engage at a deeper level with how they move their body, and think about what positions or movements they practice regularly that may put excessive demands on their back. Bending or lifting from the legs rather than from the back is a common change people are encouraged to make, but staff should also assess how standing and moving through the day with a more upright and balanced position can make a huge difference over time to how they feel.
Some movements, even sitting and standing up straight, may feel odd when first performed in new ways but as the legs and core area, for example, become stronger, these movements will grow to feel much more natural and the back will be relieved of unnecessary strain.
6) Think posture, posture, posture
Whatever environment your staff most commonly inhabit, they will at some stage spend time sitting. Remind them that every minute spent sitting with upright posture, a long neck, shoulders back and relaxed while engaging the core stability muscles of the abdominal area will build strength in the back and maintain positive overall healthy functioning of body and mind.
On the other hand, every minute sitting in a slouched position may not only contribute towards back pain, but can also lead to digestive issues and a sluggish supply of oxygen to the brain which may compromise optimum performance and mood.
7) Help everyone build a solid foundation for sport, hobbies, activities and a great balance in life
Many staff will be regular exercisers, which is great for maintaining a healthy back. There are also risk factors with any activity if not performed correctly and many people actually end up giving up on activities they like due to back pain.
Educating staff on how to develop specific, practical solutions to build strength, stability, mobility and flexibility through their spine and around their entire body will ensure that they are not only more comfortable and safer at work, but their favourite exercise or sporting activities will become more effective as they evolve a body position and movements that are physiologically stronger and more functionally suited to their chosen activities. They’ll also be in a better position to continue with the sports they love for longer with a reduced risk of injury if they move appropriately at all times.
Ask anyone who’s had a bad back and they’ll tell you it can be painful, debilitating, frustrating and costly. We all only get one spine so as long as you do what you can to look after your own, and help everyone around you to do the same, we’ll all be in a better position to sit, stand and move comfortably and safely, and enjoy every part of our routine without risking injury or inconvenience.