You’ve just taken a new job, and many of your tasks involve lifting heavy objects. If you’ve never done much lifting in the past, you need to remember an important rule. Until you become accustomed to lifting, you should take frequent breaks during the workday to avoid serious injury.
When you are inexperienced at lifting, your back muscles experience fatigue after only a short period of time. When this happens, the body has a natural tendency to become rigid in the area experiencing pain and that muscle group can no longer be used. You try to compensate by lifting with other muscle groups that don’t hurt so that you can complete the task.
Although this seems like the right course of action, it creates a series of negative consequences that could cause you to sustain a major injury. The first of these consequences results from the tensing itself. Tense muscles prevent proper blood flow, which deprives your muscles of the oxygen they need to sustain their repeated action.
The second negative consequence derives from using different muscles to lift. Although this might lessen your pain at first, it increases the stress on the joints and spine. The back muscles begin to fight the abdominal muscles until they both eventually contract. That simultaneous contraction of both sets of muscles creates a kind of “seesaw,” with each muscle group pulling from either end while your spine is caught in the middle. This not only provides an additional source of pain, but also increases risk of serious injury.
When you take a lunch break of a half-hour or more, you give your muscles the time they need to recover from the morning’s exertion. However, once you start working again, the amount of oxygen your muscles need in order to complete the same amount of work increases significantly. That requirement will keep increasing during the afternoon. That’s because your muscles are becoming fatigued much quicker during the afternoon, having already been exerted to complete the morning tasks. Taking breaks throughout the day gives your muscles the opportunity to replenish the oxygen they need, which helps counteract the risk of back injury. This is especially important at the end of the day when muscles are most vulnerable.
The necessity of taking frequent rest breaks can’t be stressed enough because on-the-job back injuries from heavy lifting are widespread. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2002, there were more than 345,000 back injuries requiring employees to take time away from work. A 2004 study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that back pain results in over 100 million lost workdays per year. But beyond the time lost from work, which could mean trying to manage financially on disability income rather than your regular salary, there is also the possibility of a permanent injury that could end your work career and leave you unable to enjoy activities with family and friends. Why would you risk such a possibility when preventing it so simple?