Can more be done to help pharmacists in the workplace?

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Can More be Done to Prevent Pharmacist Back Pain in the Workplace?

Pharmacists provide an important service for our local communities, and their health and well being is key to ensuring drugs are prescribed correctly and safely.

Over the last year I have treated a number of different pharmacists, varying in gender, age, height, time in the job and the common factor between all of these patients? They all needed my help!

I conduct a detailed investigation into the reason why every single one of my patients has visited the clinic and the more pressing matters of poor habits they pick up on a daily basis. Many arise from our workplace, and pharmacies are no exception. 

Posture in the workplace

The main factor that every pharmacist has expressed in my company is a concern over the intensity of a working day with limited breaks, if any, and the stress that can be placed on the spine as a whole.

Regular breaks in any job is vital in allowing the spine to have a chance at recovery or to stretch it out, promote healthy mobility within the joints, muscles and ligaments.  Taking a break is important and beneficial for your mental health too!

The computer screens that the pharmacist must use are predominantly on a standard or lower than normal desk and due to the nature of the business the professional will usually lean over towards the desk to type in the relevant information, for hours on end. I have been told on occasions that stools are not allowed so that they are able to sit for five minutes during the day to work at the desk… which I find strange!!!

The workstation or desk is usually far too low to be flexed at the lumbar spine all day long, potentially causing strain and stress on the spine in multiple areas. Most of us may get away with this on the odd day in a week, but to carry out this negative posture and strain maybe 48 out 52 weeks in a year is tough going! And I’m sure most of can admit to ignoring aches and pains most days until one day an episode properly kicks us up the butt!

Potential Changes…

The benefits of positioning your computer at eye level
  1. Fit a computer stand at the average shoulder height so that the pharmacist can simply use the computer without having to lean or hunch over the desk.  The screen should be roughly at eye height, therefore promoting a straight spine and engaging the core, reducing increased kyphosis, pressure on the neck and surrounding muscles, which can potentially lead to cervicogenic related headaches.

  2. Introduce a standard desk that is much higher than the normal desks, which are in most practices now. Positioning a desk where most would have to simply raise their arms slightly to arrange medications instead of leaning over for long periods of time would take a lot of the stress off the spine and surrounding structures. A plus point to this is extra storage as there will be more space to keep the medication etc. 

  3. Store the rare and less prescribed medication in the bottom drawers of the unit and the most common higher up. This limits the amount of bending forward for the pharmacist in the average day. Many pharmacies may already have implemented this system, but if not this is an easy solution to implement and improve the health of pharmacist employees.

  4. Take regular breaks! My understanding for most pharmacies is that the pharmacist is not contracted to have a break as their place of work does not actually close during the working day (8.30am – 6pm).  They must be available throughout this working day period at all times to provide their service.  This is clearly not right on a humanity front but the problems can lie deeper.  It has been proven that mistakes are increasingly common when the mind is fatigued. I would like to think that the medication I am prescribed is always 100% bang on.  Now I am not saying that this happens, but isn’t it possible and more likely for mistakes to happen if the pharmacist in that practice is tired, losing concentration or in pain…? Which is completely understandable given the circumstances.  Unfortunately, this can absolutely not happen as medication is a serious business and ensuring patients are given the correct ones is important and could be life changing if incorrect.

These are my thoughts based around what I’ve been told by the patients I have previously treated and the general information I have learned over the last few years. Every time a patient enters the clinic, I aim to help them achieve their goals, whether that is increased mobility or eliminate the pain they experience in daily life. I like to say to my patients that we can educate, successfully fix the complaint and improve the patient’s lifestyle, however where their workplace is concerned, we have a slightly bigger barrier to overcome as jobs can differ so greatly. Many of my pharmacist patients are regular maintenance patients as the changes that need to be made at their workplace in order to eliminate the cause of their back pain are simply not happening…

The general stress caused on the spine in a normal day of work for a pharmacist can at time be greater than other professions, but we can treat this! I can educate my patients on better ways to stand and hold themselves, as well as various treatments, stretches and exercises to improve posture and overall spinal health. Despite all of this, it is still an uphill battle every day and the negative work factors are extremely powerful in the case of pharmacists.

If you’re reading this and find any of the above relates to you and you would like to learn more about ways to help your spine when in work, please check out our website for more details and book your first consultation.