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10 tips to avoid back pain on shift

Back pain and other musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries account for around 40% of sickness absence in the NHS, costing around £400 million each year. 

Those working in nursing jobs and occupational therapy jobs are at particularly high risk of developing occupational back pain. However, there are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk and, hopefully, avoid a debilitating injury. Here are our top 10 tips...

1. Exercise for strength

Stretches and other exercises can help strengthen your lower back and make it less susceptible to injury. Simple things you can do at home include pelvic stretches, squats and crunches. There are some ideas on the NHS Choices website.

2. Learn to lift

One of the biggest causes of back injury is lifting or handling patients or equipment incorrectly. Make sure you know the right things to do. Here are some safe lifting tips.

3. Sleep well

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so it's important to make sure you have a good sleeping posture and don't wake up with stiff muscles. That means ensuring your pillows and mattress support you properly.

4. Good posture

The way you hold yourself when sitting, walking or lying down is important. Bad posture can put strain on your muscles and be a major factor in back pain. Good posture keeps all parts of your body balanced and supported. Don't slouch or stoop and make sure your chair is ergonomic with plenty of lower back support.

5. Think on your feet

Your shoes can have a big effect on your posture. Make sure they're the correct size with plenty of support, particularly at the heel.

6. Watch your weight

You're more likely to suffer from back pain if you're overweight. Even putting on the smallest amount of weight can make an impact; and more so if you already have niggling back pain!

7. Get advice

As a nurse or occupational therapist, you're in the ideal position to seek professional help to prevent back problems. Many trusts run training or support classes on preventing MSK injuries. Or why not just chat with a physiotherapist colleague?

8. Get a massage

After series of long and strenuous shifts, a rejuvenating deep tissue massage might be just what the doctor ordered. Why not book yourself a session with a physical therapist on your day off?

9. Take up yoga or pilates

Both are really good for stretching and strengthening the back muscles. You should be able to find a convenient and reasonably priced class at your local sports or community centre. 

10. Don't sit for too long

As a nurse or occupational therapist, you're unlikely to be tied to a desk for prolonged periods. However, if you are catching up on some paperwork or doing computer-based tasks, make sure you take regular breaks and walk around to loosen up your muscles.

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