When back pain is related to your job, it is often complicated by the interaction with your employer and the workers’ compensation system. And if you were unhappy with your work environment, that could prolong your back pain as well as your return to work. You need to be compensated fairly for loss of working time, and you also need to modify the conditions at your job that caused the back attack in the first place, whether you have a desk job or one that is physically strenuous. It’s important to return to work, in any capacity, early in the course of a back attack. The longer you are out of work, the less likely it is that you will ever return to gainful employment. If someone is out of work for one year after a back injury, the chances of returning to a job are essentially zero. Max, a forty-five year-old office worker came to my office three days after the onset of pain associated with a lifting accident at his work. His office was moving to another location in the building, and he had been lifting boxes for two days. He developed pain and stiffness in his back that made it impossible for him to sit at his desk. He had muscle strain associated with lifting (he had twisted his back frequently). He was treated with medications and a five-day sick slip. When he returned to my office, his back pain had improved and his muscle spasm resolved. He was sent back to work with the recommendation that he be excused from any additional lifting associated with his office move. He was encouraged to move frequently during the day. With the modification in his work duties for three weeks, Max had total resolution of his back pain and has returned to his usual job.
The therapies in my basic back pain relief program can help you if you were injured at work. Once you are pain free for five to ten days, returning to work is feasible. Don’t carry objects greater than ten pounds initially, even if your job involves heavy lifting. Always use good body mechanics—your feet and face are in line, with no spinal twisting. As you feel more comfortable with lighter lifting tasks, you can progress to lifting heavier objects. If you sit for most of the day, remember that sitting puts strain on the lumbar spine. Get up frequently to relieve back muscle fatigue.
If you are a smoker, make every effort to stop now—your back, along with your lungs and heart and other organs, too, will thank you. All the tissues of the body require oxygen to maintain their function, and smoking robs these tissues—especially your spinal discs—of the optimal amount of oxygen. Because no blood vessels supply the interior of the discs, all the oxygen has to seep in from the surface. If the blood contains less oxygen, the discs receive less, too, and lack of oxygen is part of the disc disintegration process that increases the risk of herniation.