It’s Time for You to Show Back Pain Who’s Boss

Back pain can seem like life’s unrelenting and cruel boss, especially in people frequently affected by it. If your lower back is hurting, or you’re feeling pain under your shoulder blades or down your neck, you know how difficult it can be simply to sit up in the morning, let alone function adequately at work, throughout the day. As it turns out, much research indicates that back pain is a leading cause of days lost at work, with more than 1 in 4 working adults reporting that they experience back pain at any given time. 

To control back pain while at work, you may have tried medications, a more ergonomic chair, a different computer desk height, or getting up and moving around more throughout the workday. There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches; they all may help relieve the pain. However, that’s just it. They’ll help. But not one of them is a cure, in and of itself.

First, if you are in a physically demanding job requiring heavy lifting or repetitive movement, were you adequately trained in the techniques to perform your duties? Do you have the proper equipment to complete your job safely? If you don’t believe you have the tools you need to safely perform the job right, be sure to speak with your supervisor or human resources department to address your concerns. Being a self-advocate in the workplace, especially if you think your back pain might be related to your job function, is essential.

Are you carrying tension in your spine because you’re under a lot of stress at work? Does the pain seem to follow a work-week schedule, decreasing on the weekends but ramping up on weekdays? To reduce or eliminate your back pain episodes, you’ll need to get to the bottom of what’s causing the stress. Sometimes back pain comes from just sleeping wrong or a traumatic injury, but when that’s not the case, the cause needs to be carefully determined and addressed, rather than just repeatedly treating it. 

When stress and tension are to blame for your back pain, you’ll tend to walk and sit with your shoulders hunched or shrugged up. But your spine will tell you this is not good for your posture in the form of pain or back spasms. The way our bodies carry tension is a perpetual condition, and you may not even know that your muscles are clenched as tightly as they are. So, if you stiffen every time you hear your boss’ voice, for example, how can you better cope with professional stress so that your spine and overall health don’t suffer long-term?

A straightforward way to manage workplace stress in the moment is to take a walk. Now, you may not be able to get up and go immediately, but commit yourself to using your break time to get some exercise. Taking a short walk – while focusing on breathing and loosening and relaxing your shoulders – can significantly help. Walking is also a tremendous mental stress reliever and excellent cardiovascular exercise. That’s multiple health benefits rolled into one effort. Talk about multi-tasking efficiency!

Strong spinal support muscles are of significant benefit in helping to protect the spine against injury and to help prevent back pain. Yoga and meditation are also highly recommended for people suffering from work-stress-induced back pain. Meditation can help you focus on becoming calm and centered, while yoga stretches and poses can help you become more limber, with stronger muscles to support your spine.

There’s no shame in admitting that work stress can hurt our bodies. Most people can point to a time (or a few) in their lives when the stress of work or something else important harmed their health. The sooner you can identify the cause and get to the bottom of it with the proper treatment, the less chance it has to take hold and cause irreversible damage. So, you call the shots – because no one is a better boss of your health than you. 


Neel Anand MD