Work Simplication Can Save Your Back From Injury

USING TIME AND ENERGY EFFICIENTLY by analyzing and planning for the best way to complete a task before beginning will decrease or eliminate unnecessary fatigue and prevent back injury. Working smarter not harder is the key.

A small amount of time spent planning, waiting for help, or altering your schedule prevents re-injury to your back.

Principles of work simplification include:

  • Task planning: Think about each of the steps of the activity you are about to perform. Have all necessary materials available and organized at a proper height before beginning.
  • Frequent tasks: Perform elements of the activity in a way that conserves energy and limits unnecessary movement.
  • Set priorities: Perform the most important tasks that need to be done at a given time or day. Plan other activities around these tasks.
  • Alternate heavy and light activities.
  • Ask for help whenever available and when you need it.

Let's use preparing a meal as an example of work simplification. Setting out and organizing the cookware and ingredients you will be using at a proper height will prevent unnecessary repetitive bending, reaching, and lifting. By dedicating a time specifically for cooking, you can avoid the stress and unnecessary muscle tensions that can accompany multitasking several activities.

Pacing and altering positions

During work, allow for frequent rest breaks; respect your pain. Taking short frequent breaks can prevent pain that results from sustained muscle tension. For example, when completing a 3-hour task, a 5 minute break each hour is preferable to taking a ½ hour break after the task's completion. Pacing reduces stress on ligaments, muscles, and spinal discs.

Work height

Proper work height allows for maintaining your best posture. Work heights greatly affect neck, shoulder, and back pain. Proper work height allows correct posture which reduces stress and strain on muscles, ligaments and discs, which, in turn will decrease fatigue and pain. You can assess whether standing or sitting is best as it relates to the work heights by following certain guidelines.

Standing

Your work surface should be at or near hip level. Maintain shoulders over hips, hips over knees, back straight, shoulders back, and head up. With prolonged standing, place one foot on a small foot stool to relax the back. If the work height is not correct, modify by raising or lowering the work surface, or your chair. If it is not possible to change the work surface height, change your position and take frequent breaks.

Sitting

Sitting is the most stressful position for spine health. Maintain your work at elbow level with your arms at your side resting on arm rests whenever possible. Keep your head upright and not leaning forward. Shoulders should be over your hips and remain relaxed while preventing your shoulders from rounding forward. The chair should allow you to sit with your back completely supported by the chair. Your back should be straight while maintaining the proper curve in your mid and lower back. Feet should be flat on the floor so knees are level with hips. If the chair is too high and cannot be adjusted, a stool can be placed under your feet. If the chair is too low, cushions can be added to the chair seat.

Driving

Adjust the car seat for correct posture. Knees should be level with hips. A car seat too far back causes the low back to round too much. Holding onto the middle or lower edge of the steering wheel reduces neck and upper back strain.

Carrying Objects

Good body mechanics and posture when carrying, pushing, pulling, and reaching for objects can prevent injury. Storing supplies frequently used within easy reach between shoulder and knee height can reduce injury. On occasion when reaching overhead, use a small stool. Picking up objects that are at ground level is more strenuous. Lifting from a half kneel position can decrease stress on the back by maintaining a straight back posture during the lift. Consider using long-handled equipment such as reachers, shoehorns, etc. Use transportation devices such as wheelbarrows, wagons, or dollies when moving heavy objects.

People with back pain often have difficulty performing routine self care activities, house and yard work. Often this is due to people performing activities with incorrect posture or body mechanics. Activities that are integral part of your lifestyle should be continued. Continuing with your exercise program consistenly will help build your back and abdominal muscles. This renewed strength can help you increase your daily activities. Resuming activities requires proper performance of the activities to minimize re-injury.

Protection

Long term success while performing self care or house activities requires best posture and a relaxed state of mine. Taking time and not taking short cuts will help you remain injury free and safe.

  • Change positions frequently.
  • Use both hands when possible.
  • Use gravity when you can such as with sliding an object on a countertop vs. carrying it.
  • Use wheels to transport including a kitchen or laundry cart.

Reducing your effort during tasks you must do can prevent injury and leave you with energy and spine health. This allows you to have a more active lifestyle doing the things you want. So reduce your effort by 1) Plan the activity, 2) Position it properly, 3) Prepare in advance of performance and 4) Protect yourself. You will be glad you did.