By Francis M. Smith
Many people think that back pain is simply an inevitable part of getting older or working at a physically demanding job, but pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong, and overexertion injuries are incredibly common, in both the workplace and at home.
Every year, injuries resulting from overexertion account for approximately 3.3 million emergency room visits. These injuries most frequently affect the lower back, as overexertion injuries are often caused by lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, or otherwise manipulating heavy or awkward objects. Though aging and poor physical condition can increase the risk of sustaining an injury from overexertion, there are things you can do to help prevent these injuries, and avoid the often severe back pain and inability to perform normal activities that result from them.
Physically demanding jobs are one of the leading causes of overexertion injuries; in fact, this type of injury is the most common workplace injury, accounting for 1 in 4 workers' compensation claims. Employees in fields such as construction, shipping, and retail stocking, as well as any other occupation in which handling and moving heavy objects manually is part of the job, need to be particularly aware of the dangers of overexertion injuries and how to prevent them. However, these injures can also easily happen around the home, while doing repairs or yard work, or while helping a friend move. Even lifting a growing child can cause a strain or sprain resulting in lasting back pain. Since most people engage in these tasks at some point, it's a good idea for everyone to know how to avoid injuring themselves.
About Overexertion Injuries
Most injuries caused by overexertion involve muscle strains and sprains. A muscle strain occurs when the muscle tissue is stretched or torn. A sprain occurs when the ligaments which connect the muscles to the bones are torn or stretched. When these injuries are caused by overexertion, the most common injury site is the lower back. More serious injuries can include herniated spinal discs and other joint damage.
Overexertion Injury Prevention
- Know your limits. Have a good idea of how much weight you can lift comfortably, and avoid lifting more than you can manage. Don't push yourself to the limit of your lifting capacity to save trips or to avoid taking the time to find someone to help you.
- Routine exercise. Building strong core muscles can help your body manage the strain of lifting more safely, and increasing your flexibility makes it less likely that you will pull or strain something when your body is forced into an awkward position.
Before the Task
- Warm up and stretch. Coming into a strenuous physical task "cold" without getting your body prepared for the activity increases your risk of injury. Take a few moments to do some simple stretches or other exercises before you begin lifting.
- Clear your pathways. Don't try to navigate through an area full of obstacles when carrying or moving heavy objects. Not only does this increase your risk of tripping, but you may be forced to twist or contort your body in ways that put additional strain on your muscles, increasing your risk of injury.
- Maintain good lifting posture. The way many people try to lift objects, with their back hunched and legs straight, is an easy ticket to back pain. Bend your knees, not your back, to reach objects on the ground. The majority of the lifting force should come from your leg muscles, not your back.
- Keep your work close. The further away from your center of gravity that the load you are lifting is, the harder it is to hold and lift it, and the more strain you put on your body. Bring the object as close to your core as possible, and avoid lifting with your arms extended.
- Stay straight on target. One of the easiest ways to hurt your back is to twist or turn while lifting, or to try to lift an object to one side of you. When approaching a load to lift, keep your body facing squarely toward it, with "toes and nose" pointed in the same direction. If you need to move the object to one side, turn you entire body, don't twist at the waist.
- Find a friend. Some loads are too heavy or unwieldy for you to lift safely and comfortably. In these cases, don't try to manage it on your own; get another person to help and lift it together. If there's no one available, wait and move on to something else.
By observing these safety precautions, you can avoid injuries at home or on the job that can limit your ability to work or keep you confined to bed-rest with severe back pain for extended periods.
If however you suffer from an overexertion injury and would like to consult me about what options are available to you for compensation regarding your injury, please call me at my office at 908 233-5800 or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com.