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10th July 2015

Back pain in care home staff

The onset of back pain can happen in the workplace. It may be triggered by bad posture while sitting or standing, bending awkwardly, or lifting incorrectly. The majority of personnel who experience back pain find it is not caused by a serious condition. In most cases, back pain will improve with rest over a short period of time. In other cases some people experience chronic long-term pain or pain that intermittently returns. One of the working environments where back pain is experienced more is the care home environment. This may be due to a number of factors with repetitive manual handling being one cause.

Types of back pain

Back pain is most common in the lower back ('lumbago'), although it can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck down to the hips. Back pain can be caused by an injury or disease such as:

  • Sciatica – irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which causes pain, numbness and tingling that travels down one leg
  • A slipped disc – when one of the discs in the spine is damaged and presses on the nerves
  • Ankylosing spondylitis – a long-term condition that causes pain and stiffness where the spine meets the pelvis
  • Whiplash – neck injury caused by a sudden impact
  • Frozen shoulder – inflammation around the shoulder that causes pain and stiffness

Causes of back pain injury

Back pain can be caused by many work situations. The exact cause is often unclear, but back pain is more common in work that involves:

  • manual handling in awkward places – small rooms where supporting the lifting of residents may be difficult
  • working beyond normal abilities and limits, and when physically overtired such as at night or extra shift work
  • heavy manual labour and handling tasks
  • stretching, twisting and reaching at any stage during the work environment
  • repetitive tasks such as supporting the movement of elderly residents with limited mobility
  • pushing, pulling loads that require excessive force when making beds and moving soiled laundry in each room
  • stooping, bending over or crouching (poor posture) when working in an environment where there is limited space such as a bathroom when using a bath

Back pain treatments

The individual with mild back pain should expect the back pain to ease and heal in a short period of time.

It is a recommendation that any person who experiences acute or chronic back pain should consult their GP for advice and possible further tests and treatment.

Some of the different types of treatment may include:

  • Analgesia
  • Manual therapy, such as physiotherapy chiropractic or osteopathy
  • Support and advice at a specialist pain clinic

How care home staff can prevent back pain

A balanced healthy lifestyle will support the prevention of back pain. The following will support the prevention of back pain:

  • Eating a balanced diet will provide all the right amounts of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins.
  • Prevent dehydration and drink water regularly during the working day.
  • Regular exercise, such as walking and swimming, will support the prevention back pain. Activities such as yoga or Pilates can improve flexibility and strengthen the back muscles.

Employers' duties

  • Ensure there are the right amount of staff are available to undertake manual handling tasks
  • Ensure staff have the right equipment to understand the manual handling activity
  • Provide manual handling instruction, information and training to all staff
  • Employers should consult with staff. Consulting with staff will help the employee understand the difficult or awkward manual handling movements
  • Record manual handling risk assessments on all manual handling work activities and put in place reasonable controls to reduce that risk
  • Investigate and review all reports of ill health caused by work

Employee duties

  • Report any incident of a back injury in the work environment
  • Use all equipment provided by the employer when working
  • Attend manual handling training as provided by the employer

QCS Heath & Safety policies

QCS have guidance and policies to support your service in meeting the requirements of health and safety.

Sally Beck RGN, BSc (Hons), MSc, CMIOSH – QCS Expert Health and Safety Contributor


Topics: Health & Safety

One thought on “Back pain in care home staff”

  1. Barbara Bupe says:

    Excellent work, factual and well informed.

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