Back problems are commonplace in society. It is important to ask if there might be certain risk factors for back injury that should be avoided if possible. While we cannot pick our genetic make-up or even our current occupation (for most of us), how we interact with our daily tasks can be the difference between disabling pain and minor aches.
Some of the most strenuous jobs are those tied to the construction industry. Concrete-reinforcement workers and carpenters have more back pain than what is typically seen in office workers. But office workers can be a greater risk for carpal tunnel symptoms. Each of these jobs has unique characteristics that make certain locations of the spine more affected than others.
Lifting heavy weights (e.g. concrete, lumber), especially in awkward positions, makes the discs in the low back vulnerable to the load, which can exceed the strength of the ligaments. This is called a sprain, and in severe cases the disc can bulge or herniate. If the worker can use good ergonomics (e.g. symmetrical lifting), then the disc can more safely resist the load. It is also known that the spine is more stiff in the morning, and develops higher pressures in the disc when a worker lifts at this time of day. Taking this into account, one can do more light lifting in the early morning. In almost every case one should never lift anything, even a light object, by doing a twisting motion. This action is where the spine can easily be damaged. Getting a buddy to help with a lift is a solution that many do not try.
Sitting for prolonged periods can also be damaging to the spine. First, there is the inactivity, which causes muscles to become weak. The spine is designed for movement, especially walking. An apple a day is good, but a walk a day is better. Sitting also causes increased pressure in the disks of the low back. If you add vibration (e.g. bus drivers), the sitting seems to be much worse. An anti-vibration seat, frequent walk breaks, along with a chair that provides proper support, are the main counter measures.
Each job has its own unique ergonomic characteristics and should be assessed accordingly. Proper spinal posture while working is a key to overall good health and is the best prevention for back injury.