Back problems are leading causes of absence from work in Brazil

Back problems are a major cause of workplace absenteeism in Brazil, affecting millions of workers every year. According to a recent survey by the Ministry of Social Security, more than 2.5 million Brazilians were absent from work for health reasons in 2023, and the main cause was herniated lumbar disc, followed by low back pain. Other types of herniated discs, in the cervical and thoracic spine, ranked fifth in the list.

These conditions not only impair the quality of life and productivity of workers, but also generate high costs for the health and social security systems. Therefore, it is essential to adopt preventive measures and seek early treatment to avoid complications and chronicity.

What are the causes and symptoms of back problems?

Back problems can have various causes, such as genetic factors, aging, trauma, poor posture, ergonomic deficiencies, excessive load, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, obesity, and stress. Some of the most common conditions are:

  • Herniated disc: This is a condition that affects the intervertebral disc of the spine, often caused by premature wear and tear of this structure. The disc protrudes or ruptures, compressing the spinal nerves and causing pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower limbs. It can affect any part of the spine, but it is more frequent in the lumbar and cervical regions.
  • Low back pain: This is a general term for pain in the lower part of the spine, which can have various origins, such as muscle strain, ligament sprain, disc degeneration, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, and others. It can be acute or chronic, and it can radiate to the buttocks, thighs, or legs.

The symptoms of back problems can vary depending on the type, location, and severity of the condition, but they usually include:

  • Pain in the back or neck, which can be dull, sharp, burning, or throbbing
  • Pain that worsens with movement, coughing, sneezing, or bending
  • Pain that spreads to the arms, legs, chest, or abdomen
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the limbs
  • Difficulty moving, standing, sitting, or walking
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion or flexibility
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function

How to prevent back problems?

The best way to prevent back problems is to adopt a healthy lifestyle and avoid habits and behaviors that can damage your spine. Here are some recommendations:

  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help strengthen your muscles, improve your posture, increase your blood circulation, and reduce your stress levels. You should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength training per week, according to the World Health Organization. You should also include stretching and flexibility exercises, such as yoga or pilates, to improve your mobility and prevent stiffness.
  • Maintain a good posture: Poor posture can cause or worsen back problems, as it can lead to muscle imbalance, joint misalignment, nerve compression, and disc degeneration. You should pay attention to your posture when you are standing, sitting, lying down, or performing any activity. You should keep your spine aligned, your shoulders back, your chest out, your abdomen in, and your head up. You should also avoid slouching, hunching, twisting, or bending your spine excessively. You should use ergonomic furniture and equipment, such as chairs, desks, keyboards, and monitors, that support your natural posture and allow you to adjust your height, angle, and distance. You should also take frequent breaks and change your position every 20 minutes to avoid stiffness and fatigue.
  • Lift and carry objects properly: Lifting and carrying heavy or awkward objects can cause back problems, especially if you do it incorrectly or frequently. You should avoid lifting or carrying anything that is too heavy, bulky, or unstable for you. You should also use proper techniques, such as bending your knees, keeping your back straight, holding the object close to your body, and using your legs to lift. You should also avoid twisting, jerking, or reaching while lifting or carrying. You should use tools and devices, such as carts, dollies, or hoists, to help you move or transport objects. You should also ask for help or assistance if you need it.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Your diet can affect your spine health, as it can influence your weight, inflammation, bone density, and disc hydration. You should eat a balanced diet that provides you with enough calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water to meet your nutritional needs and maintain a healthy weight. You should also avoid foods and drinks that can harm your spine, such as processed, fried, or sugary foods, alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. You should include foods and drinks that can benefit your spine, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and water. You should also consult your doctor or a nutritionist if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies.
  • Manage your stress: Stress can cause or worsen back problems, as it can trigger muscle tension, inflammation, pain, and emotional distress. You should manage your stress levels by identifying and avoiding or coping with the sources of stress in your life, such as work, family, finances, or health issues. You should also practice relaxation techniques, such as breathing, meditation, mindfulness, or massage, to calm your mind and body. You should also seek professional help or support if you have any mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia.