Lower Back Pain at Work

Lower Back Pain

Work related back pain is the most common condition seen in occupational health physiotherapy clinics with more than 80% of people worldwide experiencing some pain in their working life. Lower back pain accounts for 40% of all work-related musculoskeletal disorders and accounts for 1/3 of all sickness absence due to musculoskeletal disorders. However, low back pain is rarely serious with around only 1% of back pain disorders related to cancer, infection, fracture or an inflammatory process and only 5% of back pain associated with nerve compression. In fact, 90–95% of low back pain cases are due to simple sprains and strains and recover quickly without the need for treatment. 

Although symptoms are primarily felt in the lower back, other symptoms are often experienced and can include 

  • Mid and upper back pain 
  • Hip and groin pain 
  • Coccyx pain, 
  • Buttock and/or leg pain, and 
  • Pins and needles or numbness in parts of either leg. 

While lower back pain is rarely due to anything serious, you should attend A&E urgently if you develop any of the following symptoms: 

  • Difficulty passing urine 
  • Loss of control of your bladder or bowel 
  • Numbness around the genitals or groin area 
  • Loss of ability to achieve an erection/ sexual stimulation 
  • Severe muscle weakness in your legs 
  • Numbness or pins and needles in BOTH of your legs. 

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain can occur following physical trauma (such as a road traffic collision or accident at work), however, the likelihood of developing symptoms and the severity of symptoms depends on a combination of factors including 

  • Repeated or excessive stresses beyond your back’s coping abilities – such as through repeated poor manual handling techniques at home or work, or poor work habits such as not rotating tasks where possible or not taking regular stretch breaks from static positions. 
  • Individual factors – being female, increasing age and pregnancy all increase the likelihood of developing pain. 
  • Physical wellbeing factors – smoking, obesity and poor general fitness all increase the likelihood of developing pain and the length of time it takes to recover. 
  • Psychological wellbeing factors – stress, depression and anxiety all increase the likelihood of developing pain and even increase the severity of pain and the length of time it takes to recover as does fear of movement, activity and work. 

How can I help myself?

The majority of work-related back pain cases can be self-managed or treated conservatively with physiotherapy treatment and advice, however, your attitude and the actions you take are the most important factors in preventing long-term problems. The most effective way to manage symptoms of low back pain are to 

  • Avoid prolonged static positions and keep active. Low impact exercise such as yoga, Pilates and swimming or walking can be a good starting point. Exercise is also key in preventing further episodes of back pain. 
  • Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what pain relief may be right for you. If your pain is controlled, you will be able to maintain more movement. 
  • Apply gentle heat to reduce muscle spasm and pain. 
  • Ensure you are following all manual handling techniques correctly at home and work – keep the load close to your waist, use your legs to lift, lower or push loads as these are the most powerful muscles in the body, and work within your capability. 
  • Report any symptoms you think may be work-related. Firstly, you may have a lawful duty to report your injury. Secondly, by informing your employers they are then able to make any necessary adjustments to your workplace or working practices, either temporarily for yourself on an individual basis, or permanently for the team to improve overall workplace wellbeing. Also, in reporting it to your line manager, they may be able to refer you for physiotherapy support at work or externally. 
  • If work can adapt your tasks and/ or hours, if needed, then try and keep at work and keep active. 

How can physiotherapy help?

At Physiotherapy Matters, our physiotherapists can conduct a thorough assessment to confirm a diagnosis and work with you to help you manage your symptoms and return to normal activity by: 

  • Helping you understand your condition 
  • Helping identify the factors that may have contributed to your symptoms and provide advice on how to minimise these, including manual handling or safe DSE use. 
  • Developing symptom management strategies so you always feel in control 
  • Completing ergonomic workplace assessments to minimise any work-related risk 
  • Providing an individualised exercise program to improve mobility and strength to address symptoms but also to prevent future episodes, including work-hardening 
  • Providing additional manual therapies that may help ease symptoms, such as: 
    • Taping to provide postural support 
    • Soft tissue massage to reduce any muscular tension in the surrounding muscles
    • Mobilisation of the lower and upper back to reduce stiffness
    • Acupuncture to reduce pain 


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No matter whether your condition was caused by a sport, work accident or otherwise, we welcome the chance to serve you.

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