Why Back and Neck Pain Are Common in Cops – and How to Fix It Without Surgery

Studies have confirmed that standing for long periods of time, a routine part of a police officer's job, causes back pain. While 62% of police officers suffer from low back pain, only 9% experienced low back pain before joining the force. These statistics show us that low back pain can unfortunately be one common and negative side effect of being a law enforcement officer.


Injuries are nearly unavoidable in law enforcement. Common ailments are low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. In addition to chasing down aggressors and suspects, prolonged periods of sitting in the squad car, and wearing weighted vests and duty belts, are prime culprits of neck and back pain. Standing or sitting for long periods of time –– then being called upon to run fast, wrestle or climb when the body is not warmed up or stretched –– could certainly lead to muscle strains, muscle spasms or worse.


From a preventative standpoint, the best thing for police officers to do would be to stretch and keep those soft tissue structures as mobile as possible. Sitting too long can cause tightness in the hip flexors and low back extensors. Tightness in these areas will cause the hip joints and joints in the spine to not move as well as they need to. The wearing of a duty belt can cause muscle imbalances in the hips, so making sure to offset that imbalance is key. Being assessed by a trained professional, like a physical therapist, is important to address these imbalances before they lead to pain and loss of function.


Research has shown that wearing a heavy gun and duty belt affects posture and can lead to injuries. From a rehabilitative standpoint, the above applies with the importance of getting a proper assessment so an accurate diagnosis can be made, and the correct treatment of these imbalances can be rendered.


Many studies confirm that physical therapy treatments for back pain improve clinical outcomes and appear to be safe. In addition, physical therapists are vital resources for providing ongoing, easy, and convenient self-help exercises to improve and prevent neck and back pain.


RESOURCES:

Ramsey, J., Eisenberg, J. Evaluation of Low Back Pain and Duty Equipment Wear Configurations in Police Officers. Health Hazard Evaluation Program. January 2020.[Click here]

Why joint, back and shoulder pain are common in cops (and how to fix it). Police1.com. February, 25, 2015. [Click here]

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

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Dr. Bryan Carestia

Physical Therapist | Doctor of Physical Therapy | Owner (Newtown)
Bryan Carestia is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with nearly a decade of experience in outpatient orthopedics. He works at Activcore in Newtown, PA and services Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Mercer County, New Jersey. With an extensive clinical background and education, Bryan is uniquely qualified to handle more complex pain conditions that other practitioners could not resolve.
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