According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), back injuries at work are second only to hand injuries as the most prevalent workplace injury. Common workplace back injuries include:
- Lower back strain
- Bulging, herniated, and slipped discs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Pinched nerves
- Spinal cord damage
Most workplace back injuries are the result of overextension (twisting) of the spine from heavy lifting, pulling, pushing, or poor posture while sitting for prolonged periods. Back injuries at work are often painful and require extended treatment and recovery periods.
Causes of Back Pain
Back pain from a workplace injury can have several causes. It can come from a single act, like lifting a box that’s too heavy, or from a gradual, persistent strain on back muscles, ligaments, and the disks protecting your vertebrae. Repetitive motions, such as lifting, pulling, pushing, loading, and even sitting improperly can eventually cause your back to weaken or become strained.
Back pain can be acute or chronic:
- Acute pain comes on quickly, but diminishes within three to six weeks. While acute back pain can be excruciating, it is temporary.
- Chronic pain continues for more than six weeks. Chronic back pain can be present for years, or even last a lifetime.
The spinal column is composed of twenty-four moving vertebrae and nine that are fused. In between each moving vertebra is a disk. These are filled with fluid and act as shock absorbers, separating and cushioning each vertebra. A back injury can cause one or more disks to protrude or herniate. Without the cushioning disks, vertebrae rub against each other and spinal nerves become inflamed, causing pain.
Ligaments of dense tissue around the spine keep the spinal column in place while allowing it to bend and twist. When the spine is severely overextended, the ligaments can stretch out of place or tear, which causes severe pain and discomfort.
Muscles extend up and down the spinal column on both sides of the vertebrae. These muscles help with lifting, pulling or pushing heavy loads. Like muscles anywhere in the body, overextension, sprains, and tears can happen.
The spinal column surrounds and protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord has thousands of nerve endings that send messages between the brain and body. A spinal cord injury can be physically devastating and may lead to paralysis or even death.
What to Do If You Suffer a Back Injury at Work
If you sustain an injury at work, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Those benefits pay for your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, costs of transportation to and from treatment, and approximately two-thirds of your lost wages.
The workers’ comp process begins when you first report your injury to your employer or designated supervisor. The first report of injury is usually filed on a DWC-1 form. You record specific information about the date, time, and cause of your injury on this form. If you’re seriously injured and must be hospitalized, you may not be able to complete the form until you’re stable.
After reporting your injury, you’ll get a list of company-approved physicians from your employer. You have to choose one as your primary physician. The primary physician is responsible for evaluating you and making referrals to specialists or other healthcare providers, such as orthopedists, podiatrists, or chiropractors.
When your physician determines you’ve reached a level of MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement), she’ll give you a return to work form. The form states whether or not you are cleared to return to your former job.
If your back injury is diagnosed as:
- Temporary partial disability, you may be able to resume your former job duties after a recovery period.
- Permanent partial disability, you may be able to return to work, but not at your former job duties. If possible, your employer may assign you to a different position that accommodates your disability. (If such a position isn’t available, you may have to seek employment elsewhere.)
- Permanent total disability, you won’t be able to return to your former job.
Treatment for Back Pain
Treatment for back injuries at work ranges from mild (applying hot and cold compresses), to extensive (surgery as a last resort). Your physician may recommend drugs to reduce pain and inflammation, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
To control severe pain, she may prescribe narcotic painkillers, such as Vicodin, Percodan, or other powerful medications. Additional treatment can include chiropractic care, massage, ultrasound therapy, and whirlpools.
Most injured employees want to get back to work as soon as possible. Surviving on partial wages can be stressful and frustrating; however, failing to follow your prescribed course of treatment, or returning to work before you’re ready can delay your recovery. You can be re-injured, or get a new, secondary injury related to your primary back injury.
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Visitor Questions on Back Injuries at Work
No help after falling off a ladder at work? I was hired by a company to cut tree limbs. On this day the job required me to be on a step ladder outside the 2nd floor of a home. Just as I was finishing cutting the limbs, I slipped and fell off the ladder. The house vent broke my fall. I fell on my... Read More >>
Back injury from previous work duties? I worked as a CNA at a hospital and no gait belt, hoyer lift training was available. I was given too many patients to care for 30-64 with babies. I had back problems throughout the years and did not think much of it and doctors did not look into it. I worked for this company... Read More >>
Low settlement offer for permanent back injury on-the-job… I was unloading a load of 24 inch pipe. When I finished I was popping the straps to get the mud off and the ratchets that hold the straps broke. I fell onto the piece of pipe and then to the pavement. I immediately went to a clinic that was close by and they referred... Read More >>
Workers’ comp denying back injury claim from office chair? I have a ‘desk’ job where I work 8 hours a day. About 6 months after I started, I began experiencing severe lower back pain. My office chair would frequently ‘drop’ down to a low position while sitting in it. I began seeing my chiropractor frequently due to the pain I was having. (I have... Read More >>
Can I file a workers’ compensation claim after 8 months? I fell at work, down steps that were soaked from snow being tracked in by patients returning to their unit. I fell hard on my left buttocks. My leg numbed out and I had to just sit with my friend (who was with me when I fell) for a few minutes. Then I got up... Read More >>
Am I still eligible for a disability claim? I injured my back while I was employed in 2010. I’d never hurt my back before so I took vacation to rest up and hope that it would heal. I had an x-ray done and they didn’t see any issues, but I couldn’t afford the MRI which would have been more detailed. I’ve been working... Read More >>
Claim for chronic back pain from way too much chair time? I have been a medical transcriptionist for over 24 years now, and my back has so much chronic pain I now have to work on a laptop where I can sit back on my couch and put my legs/feet into different positions all day long. I can no longer sit in an office chair for... Read More >>
Can I file a claim for injury that made my chronic pain worse? I’ve had chronic back pain in my lower back for the past 6 years. I’ve had all sorts of treatments and finally decided to go with surgery 5 years ago. Unfortunately, the surgery did not get rid of the pain completely, so I have found ways to manage the pain. I see a doctor once... Read More >>
Why didn’t I get a settlement payment for my back injury? My job is repairing trucks. On several occasions I have to bend over them to repair the engines. Well about 15 or more years ago I had to have back surgery because of this. I had a pinched nerve and slipped disc. Workers Comp paid for the doctor and surgery. However I never received a... Read More >>
What’s a good lifetime medical settlement for spinal injuries? I used to be a professional truck driver in Santa Barbara California. Back in Feb 2012 I hurt my neck and lower back moving railroad ties at work. I herniated my C5 – C7 discs and T9-Tl5, and my l5-S1 were bulging. The company never sent me to a doctor or even gave me the... Read More >>
Sprained my trapezius rhomboid muscle… I slipped on some water at work and before I could fall I caught myself on the basket next to me. I felt a pain in my upper shoulder and back when it happened. I went to the doctor’s office with my manger and the doctor told me I sprained my Trapezius Rhomboid and an... Read More >>
Elevator Accident Causes Back Injury… Today at work I was taking the elevator from the first floor and going up to the second floor. On my way up the elevator dropped, a complete free-fall down around 6 feet (not exactly sure how far) then it felt as if the emergency breaks came on and the elevator stopped immediately, causing a... Read More >>
Can I work while my case is pending? I’ll be getting an MRI pending authorization from workers compensation for a pinched nerve/herniated discs (C5/C6 Left and C6/C7 Right). I need to have options for income, since SD is up to 52 weeks and this will end in a few months. If my workers comp case is pending and I start working prior to... Read More >>
Multiple Back Injuries Needing Surgery… I was injured at work in 2009. I was lifting multiple heavy objects when I had a pop in my lower back. I ended up having 2 herniated discs, 1 at the time did not need repair just rest, but the L5-S1 was ruptured and into my spinal cord. It was causing numbness in lower... Read More >>
Herniated and Bulged Disc from Fall While Working… I work as a utility meter reader. In January when there was a lot of snow I slipped and fell on my back. There was a smooth piece of wood under the snow that I didn’t see. I called my supervisor immediately and went home. I went to a doctor the next morning and my... Read More >>
Slipped Discs and Pinched Nerve from Fall at Work… I slipped and fell at work. The fall bruised my left knee and it swelled up. I called my supervisor and told him what happened, but they just laughed and didn’t do anything. The next day I went to my doctor and he took me off work for 2 weeks. He also put me on... Read More >>
Can my workmans comp case be re-opened? I hurt my back approximately 1.5 years ago at work. They sent me to 2 doctors. The last one told me there was nothing else he could do after therapy and steroid injections ,except put me on a permanent 25 lb weight limit with occasional bending and squatting. The very next day a lady from... Read More >>
Workers Comp Carrier Refusing to Cover Future Medicals in Back Injury Settlement… We are about to close and settle a back injury case from a work related injury in 1995. The workers compensation insurance carrier has agreed to settle but will not cover future medicals for the back injury. Is that normal? Read More >>
Office Chair Causing Back Problems, Can I Claim Workers Comp? Two weeks ago our work office was moved to a new building and we were assigned new chairs. By the 3rd day in the chair I felt discomfort and the 4th day the back part of the chair kept sliding down. I asked our team leader to have my chair switched to the old chair... Read More >>
Workmans Compensation Back Injury… I had a workmans compensation back injury on November 10, 2010. I went to the emergency room and a physical exam was preformed. I was told it was a common back strain, given pain pills, told to take 2 days off and go back to work. I went back a week later because I was... Read More >>
Back Injury Workmans Comp Settlement… I’m involved in a back injury workmans comp settlement and have a question. I injured my back at my part-time job. I’d been on light duty for over 7 months until I got fired for being tardy two weeks ago. I signed a separation notice last week when I went into the office for my... Read More >>
On the Job Injury? I was employed as chief mate on a tow boat when I injured my back. Every lawyer I contacted has refused my case. To a man they all said because it is not a slam dunk they don’t want it. Two told me there isn’t enough money in it for them. What do I have... Read More >>