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Is Your Job a Pain in the Back?

Your project is late, your phone won't stop ringing, and your back is acting up again. If that scenario sounds entirely too typical, your stressful work life may be a key cause of your aching back.

Preventing Back Pain continued...

Maintaining good health overall helps reduce the risk of developing back pain from stress or any other cause. This means performing regular back and abdominal muscle exercises, not smoking, and keeping your weight within a healthy range. Stretch before any physical activity. As we age, the risk of developing back injuries increases, so men over the age of 45 or 50 need to be especially careful about keeping fit.

"Just getting overweight and out of shape is the No. 1 cause of back symptomatology," says Delamarter. "The majority of back and neck problems that surface when stress brings them on are due to deconditioning. ... It's very unusual to have a patient who does 200 sit-ups a day come into a doctor's office complaining of back pain."

Stress Busting

When stress is a major contributing factor to your pain, you need to reduce the tension in your life. Often, stress at work can't be avoided, so you must figure out a way not to let it get the better of you.

"In terms of psychological stress, any type of relaxation therapy that you feel comfortable doing [can be helpful]," says Girardi. "[You can also try] taking time to be outside, listening to music, or doing recreational activities on a regular basis, not just once every few months."

For severe stress, you may need professional guidance. Both pain management experts and mental health professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists, can help.

Regular exercise is very important for maintaining back health not only because it keeps your muscles strong and your back well supported, but also because it's a great stress buster.

Stephen says his back pain almost disappears when he runs regularly and lifts weights. "I think the exercise helps because it's good for my back and also because it reduces my stress levels," he says.

Similarly, Susan has found that one of the best ways of dealing with her back pain is to swim three miles a week.

And all you employers out there, heed Heaney's advice about keeping the work place light on stress.

"We need to pay attention to work organization factors that may be causing psychosocial stress, [such as] time pressure, needing to concentrate really intensity for long periods of time, or interpersonal conflict," she says. "What I suggest for any employer is to take a look at what are the stressors in their organization that are causing people psychological distress. If those stressors can be reduced, not only will you have happier employees and better morale, but it is also likely that you will be reducing the risk for low back pain."

Treating Back Pain

What if you're reading this article too late and already have debilitating back pain?

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