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Preventing Back Pain on the Jobsite

Avoid back pain on jobsite

It happened again this week. I woke up and could hardly move. Somehow I had thrown my back out again while I slept. This is an old injury that bites me periodically—about once a year. That’s life after you turn 50 years old! As my Grandfather always said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” As I am recovering, it got me thinking about preventing back pain on the jobsite and what to do when you already have back pain. Please note, I am not a doctor, and this is not official medical advice!


Proper Lifting

A quick Google search and you see this helpful advice from one of the major medical websites: “Avoid heavy lifting.”

It must be nice to have a desk job where the world outside magically builds itself. I’m sure that load of Sakrete in the bed of your truck is going to walk to the jobsite on its own.

It goes on to say something useful, which is what we have all heard for years “If you do lift something heavy, bend your knees and keep your back straight.” Prevent back pain by proper lifting. It makes OSHA happy!

Don’t Do the Twist

Personally, most of the time I throw out my back, I’m making a twisting motion while trying to lift. This can happen even when there’s almost no weight involved. My physical therapist said to prevent back injuries on the jobsite and to negate further back pain, stand face forward—square to what you are trying to lift. Don’t stand to the side and twist your torso while lifting. Always keep your feet, your pelvis, and your torso facing toward what you are trying to lift.

Wear Proper Footwear

If the foundation of a building is uneven and made improperly, it affects the entire structure. The same holds true when you don’t wear good-quality shoes.

Part of my day job involves being the Director of Security for the Polk Museum of Art. My guards can be on their feet many hours a day on hard marble floors. Ask them just how important good shoes are to preventing back and knee pain! We have what we consider to be the best work boots around here at Pro Tool Reviews. Some of our personal favorites include the Vasque Talus XT GTX and KEEN Utility Cincinnati boots.

Good shoes help with back pain
Good shoes help with back pain and so does standing on anti-fatigue floor mats

Avoid Falls

The jolt your body takes from even one fall on the jobsite can be brutal. It can also be career-ending with a lifetime of debilitating back pain. Preventing back pain on the jobsite starts with preventing unnecessary injury.

Always follow proper ladder safety, forklift, and other safety procedures to keep your jobsite running smoothly. Good safety procedures prevent injury for you and your fellow workers. It also keeps the OSHA inspectors away and your crew making money!

Avoid Falls to Prevent Back Pain
Some falls can cause a lifetime of pain and end your career

You’re Not Going to Like This One

Please don’t shoot the messenger with this one. I didn’t come up with it—doctors did. If you are overweight, losing weight will help prevent back pain and injuries. It makes sense when you think about it. If you wear a 10 lbs tool belt all day, you get used to it, but how much better do you feel when you get to take off the 10 lbs of weight at the end of the day?

Getting up and down off the floor is much harder if I do it all day long with the added weight. In my case, my camera harness weighs 14 lbs. By the end of the day, my back, shoulders, and neck are always killing me. Now imagine how much better I would feel if I could lose 14 lbs of weight in real life!

Stretching

If you have ever played sports, you know the importance of stretching. Stretching absolutely helps with preventing back pain on the jobsite. We tend to forget that the trades are athletic professions requiring strength and endurance. Basic warm-up stretching before starting your day can help prevent back and other injuries.

Many MMA fighters train in yoga, and professional sports teams such as the LA Clippers have added yoga as part of their program. The Seattle Seahawks went so far as to make yoga mandatory for their players. I did yoga for about six months to help recover from pain after I could no longer take kickboxing in Lakeland because of an injury that included back pain.

cat stretching
Stretching certainly looks like it’s working for him…

What If You Already Have Back Pain?

If it’s too late and you already have back pain, of course, see your doctor. Personally, I have found Aspercreme with Lidocaine extremely helpful. It also doesn’t burn or smell bad like other ointments. It also works great on arthritis, especially in your hands, shoulders, and elbows—all the places carpenters have trouble from years of swinging a hammer. And, of course, knees too. I have recommended it to many friends, and they now swear by it.  

An Extra Pillow to Help with Back Pain

One of the best non-medication things I have found for preventing back pain on the jobsite is to sleep with a pillow under my knees. They make special foam rubber pillows just for this purpose. If you sleep on your back, this position is recommended by many chiropractors. I can’t get a good night’s sleep without one anymore.

Back Pain pillow
If you sleep you your back, putting a pillow under your knees helps alleviate back pain.

Massage for Back Pain

Many people go to chiropractors for their back pain and have found relief. Chiropractors always require multiple visits to work, and my insurance company charges $75 each visit. I have had better luck with massage therapy, but that is expensive and requires multiple visits as well.

Instead, I have bought several at-home handheld massagers and found them to be almost as helpful for a fraction of the cost. My back pain comes from the muscles tensing up, so the massager relaxes them. If I don’t have back pain but feel the muscles start to tense up, I will use it to prevent back pain before it starts. 

Use Ice

Again, we at Pro Tool Reviews are not offering medical advice, but when I went to urgent care when I threw my back out, the doctor told me to use ice and not use heat. He said they used to recommend alternating ice and heat, but now they recommend just using ice. The reasoning is that throwing your back out is like spraining your ankle, and you would only ever use ice on that. My sister-in-law, who is a hospitalist, says to use ice for the first 24 to 48 hours then you can start alternating heat with ice. 


If you’re looking for tips on preventing back pain on the jobsite, I hope you find some relief. Sometimes you just have to work through the pain. Remember, “growing old ain’t for sissies.”

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Big Richard

You missed the most critical one: Exercise. And I don’t mean exercise to lose weight, I mean exercise to strengthen muscle Most back pain comes from muscle imbalance, your back muscles are significantly stronger than your core from a lifetime of bending down and picking stuff up. This causes those back muscles to be pulling on your spine more than the opposing core muscles. If you are doing some legit core exercises and full-chain kinetic movements like squats and deadlifts – with proper form – you will do your back wonders. I remember back when I was a personal trainer… Read more »

Todd O

The most important one for me is stretching! Thanks for this article. For a career in manual labor this might just be the most important article you could publish.

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