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Why police officer back pain is a big problem, and what can be done.

When police officers are fresh out of the academy, they are often young, fit, eager and ready to take on the world. Many veterans look back at their early years and wonder if they could have done things differently. Would earlier action have prevented the discomfort, pain and outright agony they experience after years of service?

Police departments are constantly struggling with the impact of lower back pain on their police officers. This includes lost man hours, lower morale, increasing workers compensation claims, drug dependencies and more.

In this article we will explore the common causes for back pain in law enforcements officers. We will also explore other, related areas where cops are commonly experiencing these symptoms. We will explore a range of preventative measures, and finally we will go through the available treatment options.

Common Causes for Police Officers to Experience Back Pain

The demands of the job are physical, there is no doubt. Oftentimes the cause of back pain (and other joint pain) is not the times of action, but the times of inaction. Police officers spend a lot of time on their feet, whether out in the field or completing paperwork at the police department. 

Traffic incidents, witness interviews, event management, crowd control and more. These are all areas where cops are actively on duty, and required stay on their feet without rest for hours at a time.

Standing is a naturally stressful position. Gravity is constantly making demands on a range of muscles, joints and tendons. The situation also dictates the impact on your body.

Imagine hanging out with your buddies in a relaxed environment in comfortable shoes. Now imagine being on the job, closely watching a large crowd of protestors. They both involve standing, but the difference is immense. Our bodies react differently.

Police Squad CarSitting is another area of concern when evaluating back pain for law enforcement officers, especially those that spend hours in an uncomfortable patrol car. Many patrol cars do not exactly offer the best lumbar support. Patrol car seats were never designed to hold the shape of a human wearing a Sam Browne. 

Add to that your radio, flashlight, sidearm, spare magazine, cuffs, gloves, taser and any number of additional items. This fact alone is certain to cause stress and pain to the back, neck, shoulders and joints.

This brings us to the most obvious culprit; present in most situations. The burden of 30 pounds of gear strapped around the waist makes LEOs prone to severe pain in a variety of areas.

All of this does not even take into account the physical demands of the job in times of action. All tactical units are constantly at risk of encountering a dangerous, violent and physically demanding situation. This can lead to stress and strain on joints and muscles, whether from physical exertion or -- more seriously -- from physical injury.

All the above factors should be taken into account in a career that could span decades. It is no wonder that studies show a large percentage of police officers suffer from a list of severe back ailments, including:

  • Straining of the muscle and/or ligament
  • Joint inflammation
  • Bulging or ruptured vertebrae
  • Sciatica
  • Arthritis

Other Areas Where LEOs Often Report Pain and Discomfort

Back pain, especially lower back pain or lumbar back pain, is a very common symptom. There are also a number of other areas that can be affected. It is common for police officers to report shoulder, neck and join paint. This can be as a result of strain or an injury directly to those areas, or a change in behaviour caused by the back pain itself.

For example, when a LEO is experiencing severe lumbar pain, they may adjust the way they stand or sit to ease that pain. This  puts additional, unnatural stress and strains on other joints, causing those joints to become inflamed or agitated.

Neck pain is a common result of back pain for many officers. The constant back pain leads to a change in their natural position, and often neck pain follows suit.

All joints are susceptible to this type of "chain reaction".

How You Can Prevent and Reduce Back Pain

There are several considerations that could aid in the prevention of back (and shoulder, neck and joint) pain for police officers. These include:

  1. Stretching and Exercise

    Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie. Strengthening back, core, leg and shoulder muscles are without doubt the number one preventative measure you can take. Increased muscle strength and flexibility naturally leads to improved physical performance and a reduced risk of injury. Stronger muscles and a wider range of motion reduces the amount of work needed by the tendons, and lessens joint stress and inflammation.

  2. Sleep and nutrition

    Let’s face it, police officers do not exactly have a job that is conducive to a lot of sleep and great nutrition. Long hours on the job often lead to bad sleeping habits, which often lead to bad eating habits. When you do have time off, who has the patience to do a bunch of meal preparation? 

    Let’s face it, police officers do not exactly have a job that is conducive to a lot of sleep and great nutrition. Long hours on the job often lead to bad sleeping habits, which often lead to bad eating habits. When you do have time off, who has the patience to do a bunch of meal preparation? 

    While this is all true, it is also true that our bodies respond to the way we treat them. If adequate sleep is not possible as a result of your workload, then nutrition becomes even more important. 

    The purpose of this article is not to delve into the world of nutrition. Sleep and nutrition should not be overlooked if you want to prevent -- or alleviate -- the nagging pain in your shoulders, back, neck or joints.

  3. Aides and accessories

    There are several aides and accessories designed to prevent or alleviate back pain in police officers. These include back support devices, suspenders, vests and more. While they all have their advantages and drawbacks, we believe the clear candidate for the best back support for law enforcement officers to be the BackUpBrace

    Of course we are biased, but don’t take our word for it! Thousands of law enforcement officers, tactical units, military police, border patrol agents and correctional officers around the world, use the BackUpBrace. This includes folks from the United States, Canada, Australia and even Norway. All of them have felt the pain-relieving benefits of the BackupBrace. 

    See some of their testimonials here, including videos of grateful police officers that tell us the BackUpBrace has literally changed their lives and extended their careers!

    The biggest advantage that the BackUpBrace offers (aside from preventing and reducing all that back pain) is that it blends seamlessly with your existing duty belt setup. As evidenced in the above photo, once it has been properly assembled it’s barely noticeable. It comes in a variety of sizes and finishes to match your particular setup.

    Coupled with our 30 day money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose by trying the BackUpBrace (except the pain and discomfort).

  4. Physical Therapy and/or chiropractic therapy

    While both of these options can be applied to the next section (where we consider treatment options), they can also be employed as preventative measures. We at 3G International are particular fans of physical therapy treatments as a preventative. They tie in well with our first point above, relating to exercise and stretching. 

    Physical therapy can be a great tool to increase your flexibility. This often entails weekly visits with your professional instruction and at-home exercises which you do daily or every second day. It tends to focus on the smaller muscles that we do not typically think about when we hit the gym. 

    Squats, deadlifts and other power exercises tend to focus on the larger muscle groups. Physical therapists will likely prescribe exercises that use minimal or no equipment, and that focus on muscles that we use in every day movement. 

    The major advantage of this type of training is an increase in various physical traits including strength, endurance and balance.


Available Treatment Options

If all else fails, there are some treatment options available. Surgery is obviously a last resort, but technology has come a long way, and the right surgeon with the right technique can work wonders. Additional, non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures do exist, such as TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), ultra-sound and alternative methods such as acupuncture.

These options are usually very specific to each individual, depending on the underlying symptoms and cause. They are best discussed with your doctor, and should be thoroughly researched. 


The Final Word

As with most things in life, there are no magic solutions to immediately and effectively eliminate your back pain. Are you involved in law enforcement, corrections, border patrol or some other tactical unit? Do you suffer from back and joint pain? The information in this article will hopefully give you some food for thought. 

It is often a combination of things that will prove effective in reducing and -- eventually -- removing your pain.

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