If you’ve ever suffered from back pain, and 4 out of 5 of us will at some time in our lives, you’ll know how debilitating it can be.

Personally, I swear by physiotherapists. This comes from my own personal experience of back pain. Physio has certainly given me relief and helped resolve pain for several other people I know. What appears to be important with physiotherapy is that treatment is given early. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) research suggests that physiotherapy within the first six weeks of a problem can prevent long-term sickness absence.

Of course what works best is when an employer has an arrangement with an occupational health service, to which they can refer people early for treatment, physiotherapy or other specialist help.

It’s in employers’ interests to do so. According to the HSE, musculoskeletal disorders, which include back pain cost UK employers between £590 million and £624 million each year. Around 5 million working days are lost as a result of back pain annually, meaning that on any one day 1% of the working population are absent because of a back problem.

Something that concerns me is when employers believe occupational health support at work should only be made available for issues caused by work. With back pain, this can mean people missing out on early treatment. The back pain may not have been caused by work, but it will certainly affect people’s work.

A business colleague that I meet fairly regularly suffered a back injury on a weekend during sporting activities and was absent for more than two weeks in agony. He hadn’t realised he could use the occupational health service provided by his employer because his injury wasn’t caused by his work. Three sessions of physio and he was pain-free.

Let’s look at the simple economics of this issue. Our occupational health service charges us per referral. Six sessions of physiotherapy costs us £420. The cost of a temporary administrator through our usual agency is £570 per week. An early referral through our occupational health service really can save money.

Employers should also understand that physical activity can help resolve back issues. This means doing what they can to ensure work continues for some, or that adjustments are made to working procedures so that excessive activity or lack of activity does not make matters worse.

While I’m a big fan of physiotherapy, I accept it is not always the answer. One of our own members of staff recently suffered from ongoing back-problems. We did all we could at NEBOSH to support him, but the pain and difficulties he experienced simply wouldn’t go away. He literally had the appearance of a broken man.

Fortunately he was referred to a consultant, who discovered he had a problem with a spinal disc that could only be resolved through surgery. He’s a different person now, back to full health and effectiveness at work and looking 10 years younger!

About Teresa Budworth