Low-back pain among most common work-related ailments

WASHINGTON – Low-back pain may be far more common than many of us think.

Researchers in Singapore crunched data from 187 countries and found low-back pain accounts for one-third of all work-related disability worldwide.

That statistic comes as no surprise to Dr. Arthur Jason De Luigi, a physician with Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital in D.C.

He says not only is lower back pain a major cause of disability, it is also one of the biggest reasons for visits to doctor’s offices.

“Here at Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital, 50 percent of our outpatients are coming in with the chief complaint of lower back pain, of which 25 percent is work related,” says De Luigi.

Many of these patients have jobs that involve manual labor — especially bending and lifting. Construction workers are prone to these kinds of injuries, but so are hospital nurses who repeatedly are called on to help move patients.

De Luigi says the good news is that “90 percent of back pain will respond to good conservative management.”

That usually includes prescription anti-inflamatories, pain-killers and muscle-relaxers, as well as physical therapy.

There are ways to cut the risk of becoming a lower back pain statistic. De Luigi says good core muscle strength is imperative. It is also important to bend at the knees when lifting heavy items, and maintain good posture. Proper posture is also crucial for those who work at a desk, where hours of slouching in a chair can do damage.

The Singapore researchers — reporting in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases — say people between the ages of 35 and 65 are most at risk for low-back pain, and De Luigi says that seems to be the case in the Washington area.

He says patients at the younger end of the spectrum tend to have acute strains, while the older patients are more likely to suffer from years of wear and tear on their spine.

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