Before COVID-19, nearly 40 million American employees reported suffering from chronic low back pain, more than a quarter of the workforce. Healthcare costs attributed to low back pain have been reported to range from $50 to 90.7 billion annually in the United States. Because physical activity levels plummeted during the pandemic, these numbers are likely even higher now.
Work-related demands are often cited as a cause of low back pain, but the intersection of work and family life is less frequently discussed. As working remotely continues to be the reality for many organizations, it is important to understand how working from home aggravates low back pain, and what employers can do to help.
Low back pain is linked to poor work/life balance.
A study published in 2016 used data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to look for connections between low back pain and workplace risk factors. Nearly 14,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 answered the question, “During the past three months, did you have low back pain?” The researchers then examined psychosocial risk factors such as work/life imbalance, hostile work environment, job insecurity, and demanding work hours.
In order to measure work/life balance, employees were asked whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed with this statement: “It is easy for me to combine work with family responsibilities.” Keep in mind that this survey was conducted before the pandemic. This was before the separation between work and family life became virtually nonexistent as employees transitioned to working from home.
Even pre-pandemic, employees who struggled with work/life balance had significantly more low back pain than those with no issues juggling work and family life. Now, as millions of Americans have worked from home for the last year and a half, the number of employees suffering may be so much greater.
Regular exercise can alleviate low back pain.
Research shows that regular exercise can be an effective treatment for non-specific chronic low back pain. A recent systematic review of the available literature found that a training program which combines muscular strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness is most beneficial.
Strengthening core muscles helps support the lumbar spine and improve posture. Increasing flexibility by stretching the muscle tendons and ligaments in the back will increase range of motion, allowing employees to move through their day with less pain and discomfort. Aerobic exercise alleviates any remaining pain by increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to the soft tissues in the back, expediting the healing process and reducing stiffness.
However, the researchers from both of the aforementioned studies are careful to note that low back pain can happen for a variety of reasons. Low back pain is not a homogenous condition—every case is different. Therefore, no single exercise program is optimal for every person suffering from low back pain.
Employers can help by offering employees a flexible fitness benefit.
Help your employees find the exercise solution that fits their needs by offering a fitness benefit with a variety of options to explore. A flexible fitness benefit allows employees to discover an exercise program that not only relieves low back pain but fits into their schedule, making work/life balance a little easier to achieve. This is also an excellent way to show employees that you care about their wellbeing.
The researchers point out that an imbalance between work and family life often leads to mental strain which causes muscle tension, aggravating low back pain. Luckily, regular exercise trains the body and the mind. That’s a win/win for you and your employees.
Help your employees juggle work and family life while reaching their fitness goals by signing up for Zeamo, the most flexible fitness benefit on the market.