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…but don’t let it take you back to ‘back problems’

After a lovely, long and unusually sunny Bank Holiday weekend, it’s straight back into work mode today and, although the sun is still peeping out from the clouds, for some people that means having to cope with a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD) like lower back pain.

According to a 2018 report from the Health and Safety Executive, in 2017/18,  469,000 workers in the UK were affected by WRMSDs, 186,000 of which suffered with back problems.

The construction sector also came out second in the list of industries where workers experience the most WRMSD issues – estimated to affect 2,310 construction workers out of every 100,000.

When you think about the amount of physical activity involved in a typical construction worker’s day, it’s not hard to see how such problems can arise. Risk factors include:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Carrying out repetitive tasks
  • Unequal lifting – bending, twisting, or reaching while carrying heavy objects
  • Incorrect posture
  • Long hours
  • Heavy tool belt weight
  • Setting bricks and blocks above a comfortable reach

However, just because the job comes with some risk, this doesn’t mean back pain is an inevitable problem for all construction workers. Here’s five measures you can take to prevent or ease the pain:

1. Get stretching

When you go for a run or head to the gym for a training session, every piece of advice tells you to warm up and stretch out first. For jobs that require a great deal of physical labour, it therefore makes sense to do the same!

Stretching before and after work helps to loosen up muscles, increase flexibility, reduce any back pain or other aches you might be experiencing and lower the risk of injury.

Try these two simple exercises:

  • Lie flat on your back and bring one knee up to your chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then switch to the other knee.
  • Lie flat on your stomach, then prop yourself up on your elbows. This creates a slight arch in your back that can help to reduce tension.

For more stretches designed to help with back pain, take a look at the NHS’s advice here.

2. Smart lifting

Because construction often requires a lot of heavy lifting, it’s really important that workers in the sector remain vigilant about how they approach such tasks.

You might have heard the mantra ‘lift with your legs, not your back’ a hundred times, but following this advice is vital for taking the strain off your back and helping to avoid injury.

Other advice includes:

  • Keep the object you’re lifting close to your body
  • Avoid reaching out too far for heavy objects
  • Pay attention to how you move while carrying a load (e.g. avoid twisting at the waist)
  • Whenever possible, try to lighten loads before lifting
  • With particularly heavy items seek help from a co-worker

3. Rest when needed

We know there’s a schedule to keep to but that’s not a reason to exhaust yourself to the point of injury. Take a short break every so often so that your muscles have adequate rest (even a few 5-minute breaks during the day can help).

4. Wear a back brace

There are a number of back braces which have been designed with construction workers in mind. Wearing one will literally force you to carry out lifts in the proper position (with knees bent), reducing the pressure and tension on your back and making movement far more comfortable.

5. After work care

If you’re looking to reduce pain or prevent an injury from getting worse, there are several things you can do at the end of the day to help:

  • Apply cold and hot therapy. This basically involves applying an ice pack to the painful area for about 20 minutes (using a towel or cloth so as to avoid direct contact between your skin and the ice). After this, it’s time to switch to heat, applying a gel pad or hot water bottle to the area for about another 30 minutes.
  • Try changing your sleeping position. To help keep your spine stable and reduce tension in the back while sleeping, the advice is to lie on your side with a pillow positioned between the knees.
  • Use anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. These kinds of drugs can be useful for short-term relief but be careful not to use them over too long a period and always seek advice from a pharmacist or other medical professional first.

Say goodbye to back problems

While what works for one person may not work for the next, hopefully these tips will help some to avoid injury and experience greater comfort throughout their daily life and work.

If you have any other tips for dealing with back pain, share them with us on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.


*Within this article, Sheriff Construction does not seek to provide any expert advice on back problems and would always advise anyone experiencing an injury or pain to seek advice from a medical practitioner.

Image source: Freepik