Back pain can have a significant impact on your work life, especially if you are in a role that is physically challenging.
If you're finding it hard to cope in your current role or are looking to return back to work after time off, support is available. We can help you navigate the challenges and succeed in the workplace.
In this guide, we look at some good jobs for someone with a bad back, accommodations that may help and where to get support if you need it.
What causes back pain?
For most people, back pain is non-specific pain which means it isn't caused by any particular condition.
Things like poor posture, weak back muscles and sitting for too long can contribute to non-specific back pain. If the pain doesn't get better after a few weeks, it's important to speak to your doctor.
For some people, back pain is the result of a serious medical condition such as sciatica, infection or ankylosing spondylitis. Back injuries, head injuries and spinal injuries can also lead to chronic pain in the back.
Whatever the cause, back pain can lead to difficulties both physically and mentally.
It can be challenging to complete tasks involving heavy lifting or repetitive movements – and prolonged periods sitting or standing at work can aggravate back pain.
Managing pain and facing the physical challenges of living with back pain can have an effect on your mental health and well being.
Frustration, irritability and depression symptoms are common experiences, and if your work has been affected by back pain it can cause stress and anxiety about holding down a job and earning money.
What kind of work can I do with a bad back?
If you're experiencing back pain, it can be challenging to keep up with the demands of the workplace.
In some cases, you may be able to make changes to the way you do your job to help you manage your back pain better.
For example, in an office job, an adjustable desk allows you to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
Your employer may be willing to let you work from home some days, reassign particular tasks to someone else in the team or provide a room where you can rest periodically throughout the day.
Some types of jobs are more difficult to do with back pain. If you're finding it hard to cope in your current job, transitioning to a less physically demanding role could help with your recovery and pain management.
Changing jobs can be daunting, especially if you have worked in a particular role for a long time. Even if you can't continue in the same job, the skills and experience you've gained can be transferred to a new position.
Also read: How to get a job after a back injury.
What are some good jobs for someone with a bad back?
Many jobs can be adapted to better manage pain and improve your experience at work.
Consider talking with your employer about making adjustments to the workplace, the equipment you use or your schedule.
Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help employees do their job in a safe and healthy way – and they may even be eligible for funding to support you.
When considering good jobs for someone with a bad back, here are some factors to keep in mind:
1. Physical requirements
Will you be required to perform heavy lifting, bending or twisting in the role?
For long term recovery and pain management, it may be best to avoid jobs that are physically demanding.
Simple adjustments in the job tasks, equipment or schedule can make many jobs more accessible for people with back pain.
2. Repetitive actions
Doing the same action for long periods of time can cause problems for your back and spine.
Even if the repetitive movements aren't physically demanding on their own, they can cause strain on your back and increase pain over time.
Consider types of work where you can vary the activities you do throughout the workday.
Jobs with variety throughout the workday include: exercise therapy, education assistant, product reviewer, pet groomer, food critic and real estate agent.
3. Sitting or standing
Prolonged periods of either sitting or standing can aggravate back pain. Consider roles where you can alternate between the two throughout the day – or roles where you are more active in a manageable way.
Office jobs that traditionally require long periods of sitting can be easily made more accessible by using adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs.
Jobs that allow you to move about include: occupational health and safety officer, personal trainer, sports coach, event planner, dog walker, physiotherapist, postal delivery and more.
4. Flexible schedule
Fast-paced and high-pressure work environments can make it challenging to take breaks when you need to.
Consider roles with more flexibility so that you can work at a pace that's right for you. If you're returning to work after a back injury, working part time hours may help during your transition.
Jobs with a flexible schedule include: support worker, counsellor, tutor, content creator, repair technician, photographer, tour guide and sales representative.
5. Work from home
If managing pain in the workplace is challenging, you might find you have more control and flexibility when working from home.
These days, many jobs can be performed remotely. Even if you need to be physically present for some parts of your job, your employer may be willing to let you work from home for part of the week or when your back pain is flaring up.
Work from home jobs include: accounting, copywriting, graphic design, customer service representative, tele support worker, IT support officer, scheduler and transcribing.
Also read: Jobs for people with a back injury.
What if I can't work because of a bad back?
If your back pain, injury or health condition is stopping you from working, support is available.
Whether you need time off to recover and look after your health or support to stay in work and keep earning while you recover – there are many services that you could be eligible for including:
JobSeeker and other payments
Centrelink has a range of payments you might be eligible for if you can't work because of chronic pain.
- The JobSeeker payment is for people 22 years and older who are unemployed, including people who can't work for a short period of time because of injury or illness.
- If you have a permanent disability that impacts your ability to work, you could be eligible for the Disability Support Pension.
- The Mobility Allowance helps pay for transport costs if you can't take public transport without significant help.
National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
The NDIS helps people living with a permanent disability to access supports and services in their local area. That could include recovery, travel, mental health, assistive technology, supports in employment and more.
Even if you aren't eligible for the NDIS, you can speak to an NDIS Local Area Coordinator like APM about the different services and supports that might be available to you.
Disability Employment Services
Disability Employment Services is a government-funded program that helps people living with injury, illness or disability to find work or hold down a job. Providers such as APM can help you:
- Find suitable job opportunities within your capabilities
- Access workplace accommodations that are right for your needs
- Navigate barriers you might be facing when it comes to your work life
Find out more: What is Disability Employment Services?
APM is a leading provider of Disability Employment Services, with over 500 locations across Australia. Call us on 1800 276 276 to see how we can support you in finding employment, holding down a job or succeeding in your career.