5 Things Physical Therapists Want All Mail Carriers to Know About Back and Joint Pain

Learn how mail carriers can relieve back and musculoskeletal pain with expert tips on exercises and pain management.

Published Date: Jun 4, 2024
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Anyone who's a mail carrier knows the profession can be tough on the body. Hours spent walking or driving, along with the physical toll of carrying heavy bags and boxes can contribute to muscle and joint discomfort. 

In particular, the struggle with back pain is a shared experience for many mail carriers, as well as pain in the neck, knees or feet. This can be debilitating and frustrating. The reality is that your work schedule can be rigid, and you might struggle to find pockets of time for yourself. But there is still plenty that you can do to take care of yourself and keep pain at bay, starting with gentle, targeted exercises. 

Hinge Health offers personalized exercise therapy that fits into your busy schedule, making it easier for mail carriers to manage and alleviate joint pain. The program provides access to expert physical therapists who design customized routines tailored to your specific needs, ensuring that each exercise targets the areas where you need the most support.  

Read on to learn more about what you can do to improve your joint health — and how Hinge Health can help — so pain doesn’t interfere with your daily routine. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Julianne Payton, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Payton is a Hinge Health physical therapist with 8 years of experience and specializes in ergonomics and workplace injuries.
Dr. Heather Broach, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Broach is a Hinge Health physical therapist who enjoys treating shoulder, low back, knee, and ankle issues.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

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Causes of Back Pain in Mail Carriers 

Mail carriers can experience all kinds of aches and pains, but they are especially prone to back pain. There are many contributors to back issues, and mail carriers tend to experience their fair share of them, including: 

  • Repetitive movements. The nature of a mail carrier’s work involves a lot of repetitive motions. (Think: walking, bending and stooping, reaching, lifting and carrying, getting in and out of vehicles.) While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (or something you can control), that repetition can lead to some muscle tightness and discomfort. 

  • Heavy lifting. Mail carriers lift and carry heavy mail sacks or packages, often in awkward positions, which can put some additional strain on the spine. This can contribute to injuries such as muscle strains or sprains if you do more than your body is prepared for. 

  • Walking on hard surfaces. There’s a bit of fact and fiction to this one. Many people think walking on a hard surface is a direct cause of pain. There is actually no convincing evidence directly connecting the “unforgiving” nature of something like concrete or pavement to back pain. But there may be some related connections. “Jobs that involve a lot of time on hard surfaces may also require a lot of physical and emotional hard work,” says Julianne Payton, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health, which can contribute to pain. At the end of the day, it’s not so much a matter of what you’re walking on but how long you’re walking on the same surface, as well as other factors like stress. 

  • Sitting for prolonged periods. If you spend a good portion of your day driving, you may find yourself stuck in a position your body doesn’t like. “Our bodies weren’t designed to sit for hours at a time,” says Heather Broach, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “When you don’t move around enough, your joints and tissues can get grumpy.”

Other contributors to back pain can include: 

  • Age-related changes in the spine. Changes in your spine, such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or disc issues, are common and normal with age, but they can make it hard to move your body the way you want to, says Dr. Payton. This can result in loss of strength in your lower back and the surrounding muscles and, in some cases, pain when you move.

  • Muscle tension. Sustained muscular effort (doing a taxing activity for a long time) can cause muscle tension and contribute to back discomfort. Over time, this can exacerbate existing issues or lead to the development of new ones. Making small tweaks with targeted exercises, ergonomic adjustments, and taking regular breaks can help alleviate pain and reduce the risk of injury.

  • Acute injuries. Injuries such as sprains (ligament injury) and strains (muscle or tendon injury) can cause temporary pain. For mail carriers, acute injuries tend to stem from lifting from a position that isn’t right for you, or slipping due to extreme weather conditions. 

PT Tips for Back and Joint Pain 

Whether your pain is in your back, neck, knees, or anywhere else in your body, there’s always something you can do to help your symptoms. Here are five key insights Hinge Health physical therapists want mail carriers to know about when it comes to managing pain on the job. 

1. Movement Is Medicine

Back and joint pain can feel frustrating, upsetting, or even a little hopeless, especially when it persists or interferes with your ability to do your job or hobbies and activities you love. No matter how bad your pain is, or how long it’s been going on, you can always do something to help improve it. And that usually starts with therapeutic movement. 

You may worry that being active during your workday is the cause of your pain, and moving any more will make your pain worse. Although you probably stay plenty active at work, doing targeted exercises can provide additional benefits. Hinge Health exercise therapy focuses on strengthening your muscles and improving your flexibility, which can help with daily function and preparing your body to handle different physical stressors at work. “Targeted movements help to increase blood flow to specific areas, which promotes healing and reduces stiffness. The more you can move, the more you’ll improve,” says Dr. Payton. 

2. Mix It Up 

Add variety to your daily movements wherever possible. “Our bodies love movement, so it helps to vary the types of positions you’re in throughout the day,” says Dr. Payton. If possible, do a few stretches between long periods of walking. When you stop at your van to refill your bag is a perfect time to do a hamstring stretch, standing side bend, or chin tucks. If you’re driving, stop occasionally to stand, walk, or do a few exercises, such as squats or lunges. (You can even do some exercises sitting in your parked vehicle.) If you’re lifting heavy loads, work full body stretches into your day whenever you can. 

Mixing up your movement patterns goes a long way in managing pain. A Hinge Health exercise therapy session is a convenient way to mix up your movement patterns during your workday and prevent tension from setting in. 

3. Consider Your Shoes 

There is no such thing as the perfect shoe for preventing back or joint pain, but proper-fitting, supportive shoes that feel comfortable are key if you’re on your feet all day. If you’re prone to back pain specifically, shoes that tip you forward may be problematic. Even certain athletic shoes can pose this problem. “Regardless of the type of shoe, if it has a thicker heel than the forefoot, gravity will tip you forward and can put more pressure on your back,” explains Dr. Broach. Try on several pairs of shoes in order to find one that works best for you during the day. 

Orthotics may also help. These are shoe inserts designed to support and align your feet, ankles, and lower limbs. This can help alleviate pain by distributing pressure more evenly across your feet, cushioning high-impact areas, and reducing the load on sensitive structures. They can also act as shock absorbers by providing some cushion under your feet and helping to distribute pressure more evenly through your legs. You can buy custom-made or over-the-counter orthotics. 

4. Go for Ice or Heat 

Ice or heat can go a long way in helping you manage pain and stiffness. Ice improves swelling and inflammation, while heat helps relax muscles and increases blood flow. If you are particularly sore after a long day, applying a heat pack before bed may reduce sleep-disrupting pain. Both ice and heat are effective. Hinge Health PTs recommend using whichever one feels better to you. 

5. Understand Your Pain Triggers 

Recognizing the specific movements, tasks, or situations that seem to exacerbate your pain is an important aspect of treating and preventing pain flares on the job. By identifying triggers such as walking without taking a break or carrying your bag on the same shoulder all day, you can take proactive measures to minimize pain.

If you’re not sure which activities or movements in your day may be problematic, a Hinge Heath physical therapist can help and design an exercise plan targeted to your specific issues that help strengthen and stretch key areas. 

Best Exercises for Mail Carriers

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Sit to Stand
  • Woodpecker
  • Bent Over I, T, Y
  • Standing Side Bend With Arm Reach
  • Forward Bend

The above exercises are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists for mail carriers. You can do these exercises during your workday if you need a movement snack, or at home — either before or after your shift. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Heat Up Before Walking

You may think of applying heat when you’re already in pain, but heat therapy can also prevent pain before activity. Dr. Payton recommends applying a hot pack 10-15 minutes before you start walking to aid your warm up, ultimately preventing pain. “It’ll help improve blood flow in your lower back, which can make long stretches of activity a lot more tolerable,” she says.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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