After walking my dog one day a week and a half ago and pulling a back muscle (thankfully, I recovered), I started to think about the risk of lower back pain and radiology. Am I more prone than others to having back issues? What are the chances that I can permanently have back pain from my day-to-day work? And, are the risks related to what kind of radiology you practice?
Well, according to the literature, if you are a radiologist who sits and reads lots of films from a PACS workstation or an interventionist who wears lead shielding all the time and does procedures, your back may not thank you. Based on reality in the field, the human body probably was not meant to sit for so many hours or stand in one place with heavy weights. So, let’s drift into the nitty-gritty data on radiologists and back pain. And, then we can talk about some of the more common solutions to remediate our woes.
The Hard Data About Radiologists And Back Pain
Here is some of the information to support these radiology-specific related back issues. In one study in the JVIR, the mean prevalence of the general population was around 31 percent for everyone. Then, when you look at the radiology community more specifically, you even get more stark statistics. Within the interventional radiologist population alone, 20.1 to 24 percent of these folks have back and neck pain limiting work. Additionally, the same study reported a prevalence of lower back pain in the general radiology population of 52 percent and back and neck pain in interventional radiologists at 60.7 percent. If you believe this study, the prevalence of back pain in radiology is nearly double the general population. This number is not small. It is the majority of us!
To make matters worse, in another JVIR article, the prevalence of back pain gets worse with age, especially by those who complete interventional procedures. (We all have something to look forward to!) That makes sense because of the extra weight that interventionists need to bear. The only saving grace is that radiologists have less back pain than nurses and techs. But, that does not change the fact that we have a very high prevalence of back pain as radiologists.
The Only Solution: Prevention!
The last thing that radiologists want to do is get into a situation where you need back surgery. We all know that is the last resort. Heck, many of us read many spine x-rays and MRI horror shows. So, some of the solutions espoused in the JVIR papers are reasonably simple. First, taking a break is probably the best plan of action. If you notice that your back is beginning to hurt, you must take a break. Repetitive motions can exacerbate back pain. And then, of course, exercises involving strengthening the back muscles may prevent significant injuries.
Others are more immediate and easy to do, including lifting slowly, sleeping on your side, and avoiding rapid bending movements. Stretching can also potentially prevent some forms of back injury (I’m a big proponent of this one!)
Finally, ergonomics helps with the situation. That means appropriately positioning equipment and monitors, back supporting seats, clearing the floors of obstructions, and custom-fitted garments for the interventionists among us.
Let’s Face It: Chronic Back Pain Is The Radiologist Bugaboo!
For surgeons, needle stick injuries are a big concern. And, for psychiatrists, their most significant issue is mental wear and tear. But, we as radiologists face chronic back pain as our most prevalent job hazard. Furthermore, based on my recent back issue and this short survey of the literature, we need to take the prevention issues seriously. As the old Benjamin Franklin quote goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Don’t let your imaging centers and hospitals convince you otherwise!