Workplace Lifting In Younger Life Linked To Midlife Back Pain

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The Law Of... lifting safely at work

A study has sought to establish whether there is a link between heavy lifting in younger life and local or radiating lower back pain (LBP) in midlife.

Manual handling in younger life could cause back pain decades later

The study, conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, found that young adults with jobs that involve heavy lifting and forceful movements are at a higher risk of developing back pain in later life.

Responding to the findings, Melanie Burden – Head of General Personal Injury at Simpson Millar – explains the debilitating nature of back pain and warns young workers to manage manual handling carefully to avoid lasting damage.

20 Year Study

In 1986, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found a sample group of young men and women (aged 18-24), noting the level of physical exertion required in their jobs.

Researchers followed-up with their sample group 20 years later to record levels of local and radiating lower back pain (LBP).

738 Finnish men and women were involved in the study, which looked to establish how much heavy physical work respondents had undertaken as young adults, before asking whether they had suffered localised or radiating LBP in later life.

The report found that heavy physical work was not significantly linked to localised LBP; however, heavy lifting did almost double the likelihood of men developing radiating LBP in later life.

In women, the risk of radiating LBP was doubled for those who completed at least medium physical work while they were young adults; this risk quadrupled for those with a job role that required heavy physical exertion.

The study concluded that physically heavy work at a young age can increase the risk of LBP later on in life, especially radiating pain.

Debilitating Back Pain

The findings from the study will be of particular concern due to the debilitating nature of back pain, as it has previously been claimed that back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

If ignored, back pain can cause long-term discomfort to sufferers, while more serious spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis.

Another study suggests that 80% of us will be affected by lower back pain in our lifetime, with medical costs beginning when symptoms cause chronic pain.

Medical costs are not the only factor to consider when evaluating the effect of a back pain, as it is predicted that every year up to 31million days off work are linked to musculoskeletal conditions, with each sick day likely resulting in a financial loss to employees.

While the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health's study highlighted the dangers of heavy lifting, this is not the only job role or workplace incident that can cause back pain.

Office workers are particularly susceptible to lower back pain, with poor office chairs and a lack of office ergonomics contributing to lower back pain in those who are sitting at a desk for the majority of the working day.

Accidents at work can also result in back problems, with some of our clients previously sustaining back injuries because of overloaded and dangerously heavy containers.

It is important to remember that while heavy lifting is one of the most common causes of LBP, there are other factors than can result in back pain or injury.

Follow Guidelines On Heavy Lifting

Due to the debilitating nature of back injuries and LBP, it is crucial that employees in all job roles and industries follow readily available guidelines, as Melanie explains:

"The figures from this study are a cause for concern due to the serious nature of lower back pain, especially when it becomes chronic and causes ongoing discomfort."

"Guidelines are readily available from sources like the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and can help to minimise the risk of back pain developing in later life."

"Generally speaking, those who are in a role that requires manual handling should keep a straight back while lifting and should ensure that they are not attempting to lift anything that is too heavy."

"For those in an office job, it is important that employers follow protocols for Display Screen Equipment (DSE) and perform regular checks to ensure that employees avoid developing back pain while sitting at their desk."

"If you have developed a back injury or suffer back pain at work, then – depending on the circumstances – you may be eligible for a compensation claim that could help your recovery and rehabilitation."


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