Why spinal health matters

Expert talks about ill-effects of employees' unhealthy spines, how employers can address problem

Why spinal health matters

The human spine plays a major role in the functioning of the body, and many Canadians are suffering from an unhealthy spine, according to previous reports.

In 2020, over 86,000 people in Canada lived with spinal cord injury (SCI), according to the Praxis Spinal Cord Institute. Among them, approximately 44,000 with traumatic SCI and 42,000 with non-traumatic SCI.

Even if one has no injury, spinal pain alone can be detrimental to workers’ performance, said Dr. Ayla Azad, CEO of the Canadian Chiropractic Association (CCA), in talking with HRD Canada.

“Spinal pain impacts everyone a great deal. If you think about it, your spine is the center of your body, it is the foundation piece. That's what holds everything together.

“If you have people in a lot of pain coming to work and you're asking them to be productive, they have to work, they have to think they have to do the day to day at work, and it can be very, very challenging for these people sitting with pain, trying to get through their day… It would be very difficult for you to focus and to be productive.”

In 2020, a chiropractor warned that injuries resulting from working from home skyrocketed.

Spinal pain can also be a cause of mental health troubles, said Azad.

“If you've ever been in pain, and if you've ever been in chronic pain, sustained pain for a long period of time, just think about what that will do to your mental health. There's a large connection and comorbidity with pain and mental health. I believe it was 62% of people with mental health also have chronic pain. And if you have chronic pain, you're very likely to end up with mental health issues, such as depression.”

According to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT), an estimated one billion people suffer with spinal pain with 540 million people at any one time. 

“Low back pain remains the leading cause of years lived with disability on the planet,” it said. “Spinal pain and disability are more prevalent than cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s Disease combined.”

This year, “Move Your Spine” has been announced as the theme of World Spine Day, to be marked on Oct. 16.

“The 2023 campaign calls on people to care for their spines by staying active,” said WFOT. “Evidence has shown that immobility and a lack of physical activity are contributors to spinal pain and disability. ‘Move Your Spine’ encourages people of all ages, in all nations, to get active and support their spinal health through movement.”

Seven in 10 (70%) of workers who were injured on the job in Ontario still experience pain 18 months after the incident, according to a previous report from the Institute for Work and Health (IWH).

How can employers support workers’ spinal health?

There are a number of ways employers can help support the spinal health of their workers, according to Azad.

For those suffering from spinal injuries, employers should provide the disability benefits plans and ensure that “workers know that they have coverage for things like chiropractic care, so they can utilize those benefits to help them with their, with their issues,” she said.

These disability benefits plans can “really help workers get the care that they need, and access it quicker, and make sure that it's available for them as they go through their journey with the disability.”

But employers can help those who are suffering from spinal pain, even if they are not injured, said Azad.

“The key is education,” she said. “People need to understand that movement, and physical activity are so important.”

Employers should also encourage people suffering from spinal pain to “get it assessed quickly, get it assessed early”. 

“A lot of people, because there's still a stigma with pain – just like there was with mental health for many, many years – don't talk about it. There's this attitude that, ‘Oh, it's just a little back pain, it'll go away. Oh, it's just neck pain, it'll go away’. You just keep functioning and you keep trying to get through your day-to-day, so people don't get assessed early enough. They don't get the treatments early enough. And then those types of problems are what become more chronic.”

Creating a “supportive environment” for people with pain is important.

And implementing a Musculoskeletal Strategy, equipped with resources and benefits for workers, would be a big help, she said.

With many workers shifting to a home, chiropractic care can be a key way to treat certain injuries, according to one expert.

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