Back pain affects the mind and wallet too

WHAT A PAIN: Back and neck pain top the list of employee complaints and being a leading cause of absenteeism
WHAT A PAIN: Back and neck pain top the list of employee complaints and being a leading cause of absenteeism

Workplace absenteeism also hit hard

WITH back pain and neck pain topping the list of employee complaints and being a leading cause of absenteeism, taking care of your back can pay off in more than one way.

Back pain is the largest single cause of disability worldwide.

“We see lower back pain and neck pain as the two highest-ranking musculoskeletal complaints,” Musculoskeletal Health Services at ICAS South Africa (Independent Counselling and Advisory Services) senior management consultant Lutgen Terblanche said.

In fact, South African research shows that musculoskeletal disease surpasses respiratory tract infections for work-related, work-aggravated disease.

“Musculoskeletal complaints are major causes of absence.

“They rank second as a cause of short-term sickness absence and are the most common medical causes of long-term absence,” Terblanche said.

He said that worldwide, low back pain is the most prevalent of all musculoskeletal conditions and affects nearly everyone at some point in time.

“Research has revealed that musculoskeletal conditions cause 40% of all chronic conditions, 54% of all longterm disability, and 24% of all days where only restricted activity is possible,” he said.

Terblanche said it was estimated that absenteeism costs the South African economy between R12- to R16-billion each year, and that one day of absence from work can cost three days’ worth of salary.

“A 1.5% absenteeism rate is considered acceptable, but South African companies are reporting rates as high as 3.5 to 6.4%,” he said.

He said back pain had a massive psychological impact on a person.

“Most people who experience an acute onset of back pain describe worrying thoughts around the pain and fears of major damage to their back”, Terblanche said.

“Due to lack of good advice on how to self-manage the pain, people end up resting excessively and consequentially the pain increases.

“With a lack of recovery and recurrent episodes of back pain, psycho-social factors come into play, including depression, fear-avoiding behaviour and catastrophising.

“The hunt for a diagnosis begins and often results in endless investigations in the form of x-rays, MRIs and scans, leading to multiple specialist referrals often accompanied by surgery recommendations”, he said.

“We see it so often; people exhausting their medical aid, wanting to know what it going on, seeking a ‘quick-fix’ and eventually ending up in the chronic pain bracket.

“All because we don’t prevent, educate and prescribe the right treatment when that first episode of back pain happens,” he said.

“What we do with our backs at work can lead to all kinds of problems,” Terblanche said.

“Often we don’t realise the impact poor postural positions can have on our back.

“Pain may arise when we lift, twist, bend or stand in compromised positions.

“Possibly the biggest culprit for back pain is prolonged sitting without taking mini-breaks and trying to keep the body active,” he said.

-Estelle Ellis

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