Back Pain

Updated 14 November 2016

Tips for a healthy back

Long hours on your feet every day could increase your risk for back problems.


What do teachers, sales assistants, dentists and factory workers have in common?

They spend long hours on their feet at work every day. And could all develop serious back pain problems at some stage in their working lives.

What can you do to prevent back problems?

The following tips were given by the South African Physiotherapy Association:

Tips for your work environment

Counter staff

  • Sensible shoes – avoid high-heeled shoes because they increase the curvature of the lumbar spine
  • Stand relaxed with top of head held high – chin in, pelvis slightly tilted. Have the weight evenly distributed on both legs.
  • Place one foot on a low stool.
  • Stomach muscles must be pressed towards the spine and the bottom tucked in.
  • Work surface should fit your height.

Factory workers

  • Wear non-slip shoes. Your back cannot cope well with sudden stress.
  • Wear protective clothing where necessary.
  • Never over reach. Top of work surface should correspond with your arm length.
  • Keep heavy objects on waist height shelves.

Painters/overhead workers and shelf packers

  • Use a stepladder if arching the back increases pain.
  • Top of work surface should correspond with your arm length.
  • Remember the danger of slipping on wet floors.
  • Lift always within your capacity. Remember it is better to wait for 5 minutes for assistance with lifting, rather than be off because you have lifted beyond your capacity.
  • Use your whole body when bending and make sure your hips and knees do the heavy part of lifting, keeping your back comfortably still and the weight close to your body.

Dentist/oral hygienists

  • Have a firm chair with back support.
  • Hips should be well back, feet firmly on the ground with support at the small of the back.
  • If chair has wheels, avoid unexpected jarring of your back.
  • Spinal rotation exercise: Turn your head and shoulders to look behind you, holding the back of your chair to turn a little further.
  • Backstretch: Standing up, put hands in the back of the waist and stretch your body up and bend slightly backwards, hold 3 seconds.

Exercise tips

  • Don't ignore pain or push yourself too far.
  • Pain is a warning sign of possible injury.
  • Start exercising slowly and stay within your personal comfort zone.
  • Some muscles may feel sore when you first start exercising. This is normal. Sharp pain however, is not normal. Check it out.
  • With back exercises technique is far more important, than speed. Exercise slowly and keep breathing regularly.
  • It is good idea to stretch after your muscles are warmed up. You can warm them up with gentle movements, such as walking, or by taking a warm shower or bath.

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Backache expert

Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

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