Back pain and absence from work

With non-specific lower back pain (which makes up most of the back pain in the general population), the recommendation is to try and stay at work with possible modifications made if needed, or to resume work as soon as possible. This is because research shows that the longer someone stays away from work, the more likely it is that their back pain develops into an ongoing problem.

There are widespread beliefs that work can be the main cause of back pain, or that things such as a weak core, spinal instability, and poor posture can be the reason for back pain. However, research shows that back pain is very multifactorial in nature. Interestingly it has been shown that obesity, depression and stress levels are more closely related to back pain than posture and disc degeneration!

Your outlook on your recovery is also very important when it comes to dealing with back pain. If you have a negative outlook regarding your recovery, it is more likely that your recovery will be lengthened and your back problem may become persistent. However, if you are positive about your recovery, trust that things will improve with time, you remain active and try to stay or get back to work, your chances of recovery are improved considerably.

If necessary, request to return to work and your full duties gradually. Ask if you are able to manage your workload differently for a period, for example, having more breaks if sitting for long periods is painful or not as much heavy lifting if your role involves manual labour. You may want to talk to your GP about a fit note, which can help your employer to understand how adaptations to your job can help you return to work (read more here about fit notes). Of course, this approach is very dependent on your pain levels and your job, but most employers would rather have you back to work with modified duties as opposed to not at work at all!

Andreas Hessner
andreas@reachactive.co

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