Low back pain is a major problem in the workplace and it is the most common cause of work-related disability in people under 45 years of age. Low back pain is also the most expensive cause of work-related disability when it comes to workers’ compensation and medical expenses.
Liberty Mutual, the largest workers’ compensation insurance provider in the US, puts the cost of “overexertion injuries” such as “lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying or throwing an object” at around $13.4 billion each year. With all of those types of activities included in the definition it’s a wonder the numbers aren’t actually higher!
What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department Of Labor defines MSDs as “musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diseases and disorders when the event or exposure leading to the case is bodily reaction, overexertion, or repetitive motion”. MSDs do not include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls, or similar incidents. One of the leading MSDs is low back pain.
With these statistics in mind, it got us wondering which occupations are most likely to cause MSDs like low back pain? We researched the top 10 jobs that tend to cause the most low back pain. Here they are:
Professional drivers are at increased risk for low back pain and injury. A study of more than 1000 taxi drivers in Taiwan found that driving more than 4 hours per day, combined with physical and psychosocial factors associated with the job, significantly increased the prevalence of low back pain in these taxi drivers.
2. Warehouse Workers
Amazon workers are four times as likely to get musculoskeletal disorders as workers in non-Amazon warehouses. Musculoskeletal disorders like strains, sprains, and carpal tunnel are Amazon's most common injuries.
The constant twisting, bending, lifting, and sudden shifts in movement are common culprits when it comes to causing back pain. Combine this with long hours, poor posture, and improper lifting and it is no wonder that this job jumps to one of the top spots on our list.
3. Construction Workers
This job doesn’t really come as a surprise. Many construction workers develop lower back pain as a result of tasks that require excessive force, like lifting, lots of repetitive motions and prolonged awkward positions.
A Nepalese study, published in 2021, found that the 'one-year prevalence of low back pain among construction workers was 52%'. Those with more than 5 years of work experience, females, and those with intermediate sleep quality were more likely to have back pain than other workers.
Sadly this study also found that around 80% of construction workers with LBP never seek healthcare services because of the high costs of care, time constraints, and a fear of losing wages for time off.
4. Nurses And Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers face a whole host of workplace hazards from the heavy lifting of patients to the moving of heavy equipment. Inconsistent work schedules to super high stress rates only add to the list. Interestingly, when we looked at all healthcare workers we found that nurses and operating room staff tend to have the highest rates of back pain. The annual and lifetime prevalence in these groups are 40-50% and 80%, respectively.
In a 2021 meta-analysis of 154 different studies on low back pain in healthcare researchers found that the estimated lifetime prevalence of lower back pain in health care personnel was almost 55%.
While the dental profession is well known for having high rates of depression, research on this occupation found that dental professionals also have an incidence of back pain that is around 70%! (A very interesting connection when you consider how depression and back pain are often related.) What's more - one of the main studies in question looked at about 60 dentists (both male and female) with a median age of 25.7 years - so they weren’t even old!
On a daily basis dentists are faced with some pretty awkward working postures like when they are hanging over your mouth at some pretty crazy angles! Combine this with lots of standing and tons of repetitive movements and you have the perfect recipe for lower back pain. Adding up all of these factors is easy to see how all of these can result in damage to muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and joints and, in turn, cause musculoskeletal conditions like back pain. When surveyed almost all dentists state that they have experienced low back pain at some point during their lives/careers.
6. Day Care Workers/ Child Minders
Caring for children is one of the most underrated physically demanding jobs. Constant carrying, lifting, running, squatting, pushing, pulling can leave day care workers exhausted and with high levels of low back pain. Studies have shown that almost 40% of daycare workers suffer from low back pain, followed by neck and shoulder pain.
Being constantly on call, always having to anticipate their next move, dealing with multiple children at one time, can leave a daycare worker feeling drained and pained.
7. Office Workers
Compared to some of the more physical jobs that we listed here, an office job sounds pretty easy and low risk when it comes to low back pain. But surprisingly enough, sitting at a desk all day can be just as bad for us as standing or repetitive moving.
Office workers tend to have poor posture, slouch in their seats and end up causing curves in their spines. This poor posture puts pressure on the back muscles and on the spine. Combine this with a lack of activity and muscles are often left feeling stiff and get weaker over time.
8. Auto Mechanics
A 2016 study of retired auto mechanics in Eastern Nigeria found that the prevalence of back pain amongst these workers was 76.02%. 63.3% of them said that they often ended up limiting their activity because of their back pain.
Risk factors that were associated with an increased prevalence of pain among these workers included:
Being older (more than 50 years of age),
Doing daily work that lasted for more than 5 hours,
A lack of secondary level education,
Having a normal body weight,
Frequent kneeling and sustained poor posture
A lack of knowledge of ergonomic postures.
Other factors associated with back pain in auto mechanics:
Lack of job autonomy,
Inadequate task clarity,
Heavy physical work load,
Manual material handling,
Work schedule and
Inadequate auxiliary support.
9. Manual Laborers
When it comes to manual labor, hard physical work like heavy lifting, bending, and twisting, have been shown to be risk factors for developing back disorders like herniated discs and chronic low back pain.
A study of more than 10,000 manual laborers looked specifically at the how the physical aspect of the work impacted their lower backs. The results of the study found that 'physician-diagnosed back disorder was greater among employees with hard physical work' and that 'diagnosed back disorder was a stronger predictor for LTSA among those with hard physical work compared with light work'.
Knowing these results it is important for future interventions that aim to reduce the occupational impact of back disorder to specifically target employees who are engaged in hard physical work.
10. Farm Workers
Low back pain (LBP) is a common health problem that farmers face - especially farmers in developing countries where there is not the same prevalence of technology and equipment to help them.
One study of Thai rice farmers found that the prevalence of low back pain amongst those workers was more than 80%. The study also found that farmers who were younger than 45 years old and who worked in the field less than six days each week were 'more likely to experience low back pain than those who worked for at least six days'. Another interesting find was that stress levels also increased their levels of low back pain.
When it comes to work related disabilities and costs that affect employers and employees alike, musculoskeletal disorders are the conditions that have the highest rates of absenteeism, lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, and worker's compensations costs.
Knowing the professions that are most at risk for this condition can help us develop occupation-specific plans to try and combat these health issues and focus on prevention plans and wellness in the workplace. Companies who are directly affected can significantly improve their operating costs, as well as fostering a happy and healthy work environment for their employees.