Studies show that, while only 8% of police officers had back pain before joining the force, this rose to 62% afterwards (Shea, J. & Poliquin, C. (2011). Fighting Low Back Pain in Crime Fighters. Retrieved from www.charlespoliquin.com). A further study reported 86% of participating officers suffered from lower back problems (Anderson, G., Zutz, A. & Plecas, D. (2011). Police Officer Back Health. The Journal of Criminal Justice Research).
This can lead to sick leave, surgery and officers quitting the force due to disabling back injuries. It is, therefore, a problem that needs to be resolved.
Lower back pain is considered by some to be an occupational hazard of law enforcement. It’s often due to long hours on foot or sitting in a patrol car, inadequate uniforms or using work stations with poor ergonomic design. One of the biggest factors, however, is wearing a duty belt that has been required to carry an increasing amount of easily accessible equipment. This typically includes a radio, pepper spray canister, flashlight, handgun, handcuffs and baton, sometimes a total weight of up to twenty pounds.
Whilst the weight itself is a problem, this is made worse by pressure exerted by the equipment, especially when sitting in a patrol car for lengthy periods (Czarnecki, F. and Janowitz, I. (August 2003). Ergonomics and Safety in Law Enforcement From Clinics In Occupational and Environmental Medicine Volume 3, Issue 3, Pages 399-417). This can reduce lower back support by forcing the officer to sit in an uncomfortable position, particularly when the seat is well used, and is emphasized by jerking movements of the vehicle.
Improving the Situation
Rather than accepting lower back pain as an unavoidable occupational hazard, there are several things you can do to improve the situation. These can include simple precautionary measures such as:
- starting your day with stretching exercises to increase the blood flow in your back
- changing position or taking short breaks when sitting for long periods
- wearing supportive shoes and adopting a proper posture when standing or walking
- avoiding fast foods, processed foods and sugary drinks, and instead having a healthy diet.
Since the equipment belt is the cause of many lower back problems, focusing on it will help. A nylon belt with padded edges and a plastic buckle will give more flexibility and comfort than the traditional type.
Whilst you may have little choice in the type of belt, you can ensure it’s not so tight it creates undue pressure and is correctly loaded with even distribution of equipment, avoiding hard objects against the lumbar spine. You should also consider wearing a BackUp back support product (backupbrace.com) to support the weight of the belt and relieve pressure on the spine without inhibiting functionality or adding weight. This premium quality product can reduce disabling back injuries by up to 40%.
Your health is important and back pain, once acquired, can be difficult or impossible to cure. Don’t be one of the increasing numbers of officers suffering pain that may limit or end your ability to do your job properly.