Back pain is one of the most widespread, debilitating problems the world faces. In fact, It’s the foremost cause of disability, not just in the United States but globally. [source]While acute back pain typically doesn’t last longer than six weeks, chronic back pain may make it difficult to do normal everyday activities, especially work. Below are some ways to navigate employment when you suffer from back pain.
WAYS TO IDENTIFY THE BEST AND WORST JOBS FOR PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS
It’s not always easy to determine the best employment options for chronic back pain sufferers since causes can vary. In other words, your needs may be different from someone else who also has back pain.
So, the first thing you need to do is identify the conditions that make your back pain worse. For me, it’s sitting and standing for long periods of time. For others, it may be lifting heavy objects or being on your feet all day.
Anything that requires you to perform activities you know would aggravate your back pain won’t be a good fit. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a database that will allow you to look at occupations and their basic requirements to get a sense of what you can expect and whether it would be suitable or not. [source]
While the occupation handbook can’t tell you, for example, whether you’d be on your feet all day, you can often glean important information just from the job descriptions.
- If sitting and standing aggravate your back, you need to find a job that allows you to move around.
- If your pain gets worse with lifting, that leaves out a lot of manual labor jobs like construction and landscaping, and even childcare.
- If standing on your feet all day is killer, you’re better off avoiding nursing or the retail and service sector.
WORST WORK CONDITIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS
There are plenty of work conditions that can aggravate bad backs. Below are just a few employment settings to stay away from:
Being Chained to Your Desk Chair – Sitting all day really puts a strain on your back, so any work environment that needs you in your seat will only make your back pain worse.
Work That Requires You to Lift Heavy Objects – Even though moving around is good for your back, any job where you’re bending, lifting or hauling things around can be a major no-no. Basically, these are back injuries waiting to happen.
Work That Leaves You Hunched Over – It’s very easy to trigger your bad back anytime you remain hunched over your work. Remaining in a bent-over position for long periods puts a lot of strain on your upper back and neck.
Long Hours of Travel – Having to spend hours and hours in a car, plane or train can have a negative effect on your spine. It’s often very difficult to change position and stretch during travel.
Work That Forces You to Stand Most of the Day – There are some jobs that don’t want their employees sitting down or moving around too much. Some of the big culprits include retail and food service work, which often ask their employees to stand to “look busy.”
Spending Most of Your Day on a Laptop – Spending lots of time on a laptop can increase your risk of chronic back pain because it’s difficult to maintain good posture sitting in a chair and looking down at your lap for long periods. [source]
WORST JOBS FOR PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS
Now that you know the work conditions to steer clear of, here are some matching jobs to cross off your list:
Drivers – Working as a truck or taxi driver places a huge strain on your posture and back. These jobs require long hours in the seated position, with few opportunities for you to change your posture.
Construction and Landscaping Workers – These jobs require lots of heavy lifting and bending, and back injuries are common in these fields.
Childcare Worker – Workers who care for children do a lot of bending, lifting and carrying. These are all activities that can contribute to back pain.
Nurses or Nurse Assistants – Not only do these health care professionals keep busy on their feet all day, but they also do a lot of lifting and moving of patients, which puts them at risk for chronic back pain.
Retail or Food Service Workers – Any job that requires you to stand in one place for long periods of time is hard on your back and will trigger back problems.
Auto Mechanics – Auto workers do a lot of sustained bending over as they work on cars. They also do a lot of lifting and use muscles in their necks and upper backs to work under cars, too.
Call Center Employees – These office workers typically are tied to their desks and phones as they answer inbound or make outbound calls. These workplaces aren’t always flexible in allowing frequent breaks or variety of movement.
TIPS TO HELP PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS GET THROUGH THE WORK DAY
Although dealing with a bad back can make it hard to focus or be productive, there are some things you can do to help better make it through the workday:
- Ask for What You Need – This tip is important because employers are required to meet your needs if you have a documented medical disability that substantially limits one or more of your life activities. Even if your back pain is temporary and doesn’t qualify as a disability, your employer should still be willing to work with you. After all, it’s in their best interest for you to be as pain-free as possible so you can be productive.
- Practice Diaphragm Breathing – Studies show that treatment using diaphragm breathing results in improved pain and disability outcomes. [source]
- Alternate Heating Pads and Ice Packs – Heating warms and loosens your muscles while cold can reduce inflammation.
- Use an EMS Device – An electronic muscle stimulator is a small machine that can ease pain and inflammation by stimulating your muscles. You can find one online or at your local drug store.
- Take Frequent Breaks – If you have to sit for long periods of time, get up and move around often. Make sure you stretch your neck and back to stay loose and limber.
- Schedule Regular Treatment – Some people with bad backs tend to give up on treatment after a while, but there are a number of professionals who can help ease back pain even if it doesn’t go away entirely. Chiropractic care, physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage are just a few options that can help with pain management.
BEST WORK CONDITIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS
Although it can be difficult to avoid doing some duties that aggravate back pain at work, we’ve put together a list of some good working conditions you should be on the lookout for:
Ability to Take Frequent Breaks – Being able to stop work, ideally every 20 minutes or so, will help manage your back pain. Taking just a minute or two to get up, stretch or walk around is really important for bad backs.
Ability to Change Posture as Needed – For some, this means being able to work in a sitting position and switch to a standing position. For others, this means the ability to move around while working.
Flexible Work Hours – Some people with bad backs need more time to get ready in the morning, so flexible work hours or a later start time is incredibly helpful.
Varying Responsibilities – Having a variety of roles to fill can be easier on the back since you wouldn’t be locked into one position the whole time.
Company Benefits Like Work Yoga or Massage Therapists – Yeah, this sounds like a dream to us, too, but some employers do offer yoga practice or massages during the workday, free of charge. We give these companies full marks for their wellness initiatives because we know they really do work!
BEST JOBS FOR PEOPLE WITH BAD BACKS
Given the best work conditions outlined above, here are a few jobs that meet the criteria for bad back sufferers:
Office Work – These jobs, especially administrative assistants, often allow you to take necessary breaks and may even be flexible with your work hours.
Creative Work – Jobs like graphic design and freelance writing are typically flexible. Many writers and graphic designers serve as consultants and are hired to do specific work for employers, but they have the freedom to work the hours and locations they want to.
Security Work – Security work allows you to get up and move around as needed, which is great for the back. Look for jobs that don’t expect you to sit or stand in one place all day.
Work from Home – A lot of employers are moving to work-from-home models as it can reduce overhead. You can also become self-employed and offer important services from home like IT consulting, survey taking, e-commerce or customer service.
One occupation with a good outlook for people with bad backs is affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing allows you to work from home by promoting products and services. If you’ve never earned an income online before, affiliate marketing is a great way to start.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!
What jobs for people with bad backs would you recommend? How have you dealt with working with a bad back in the workplace in the past? Leave your comments below!