More than one million back injuries occur throughout the United States each year. Musculoskeletal conditions cause significant pain and disabilities for workers and cost employers large amounts of money because of lost productivity and Workers’ Compensation payouts. Men and women from the factory floor to the corporate office can benefit from learning simple ways to prevent job-related back injuries.
Common Work-Related Back Injuries
Not all back injuries are the same. Back injuries vary greatly in cause, severity, and symptoms, depending on how they occur and what part of the back is affected. The following are common job-related back injuries:
Broken Back Bones
A break can happen in any of the 33 bones that form the back and protect the spinal cord. This type of injury generally involves significant pain and is diagnosed using X-rays and other imaging tests. Spinal fractures are treated with rest, stabilizing braces, and surgery in more serious cases.
Strains and Sprains
Strains are injuries to the muscles and tendons of the back. These muscles and tendons are fibrous, tough tissues that connect muscles to bones. Excess twisting, tearing, or pulling of these tissues can result in painful strains. Ligaments are bands of strong, tough tissues that connect two or more bones at each joint. Sprains refer to stretching or tearing of these back ligaments. Symptoms of back strains and sprains include pain, muscle spasms, and cramping, as well as reduced mobility in the affected joints.
Disks are the flexible, rubbery cushions that rest between the bones of the spine. Inside of these disks is a soft, jellylike substance encased in a rubbery exterior. A herniated disk occurs when the jellylike materials leak through the outer casing. Bulging disks deteriorate and droop downward, causing pain throughout the lower part of the body, which makes walking difficult. This is more of a degenerative condition, but it can be aggravated by tasks performed on the job. Treatment for disc problems include rest, physical therapy, and surgery.
Pinched nerves occur when nerves reaching from the brain and spinal cord throughout the body become compressed between bones, ligaments, or tendons. Pinched nerves happen for different reasons and can cause acute or chronic pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, pinched nerves can impair nerve function.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Since they can result in permanent loss of movement and sensation in parts of the body, spinal cord injuries are among the most serious conditions workers can experience. Spinal cord injuries involve damage to any part of the nerves or spinal cord. Symptoms of a spinal cord injury depend on the location and severity of the damage.
Why Do Back Injuries Happen at Work?
Back injuries happen for a variety of reasons:
- Force: A significant exertion of force upon the back, like lifting heavy objects, being thrust against an object, or falling upon the floor at ground level or from a height.
- Inactivity and Poor Health: Sitting in the same position without proper posture and back support, combined with obesity and other poor health factors.
- Repetition: Performing the same motion repeatedly for long periods of time, especially twisting or rotating of the spine.
- Whole-Body Vibration: Using equipment and machinery that vibrates the body continuously.
What Steps Should I Take to Prevent a Back Injury at Work?
Employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace free of known hazards. Proper safety procedures, training, and equipment are the keys to reducing back injuries and costly Workers’ Compensation claims.
Rotate Tasks and Positions: Task rotation is crucial for preventing overuse and repetition injuries, like back strains and sprains. Employees should alternate between standing and sitting to reduce static muscle fatigue. Workers should take frequent breaks between repeated activities.
Practice Good Posture: Good posture can prevent a wide range of debilitating back injuries at work. Avoid slouching when standing, and balance weight equally on both feet. When seated, keep feet flat on the ground, and adjust the seat so thighs are parallel to the floor. When seated at a desk, the worker’s eyes should align with the top of the computer monitor.
Utilize Proper Carrying and Lifting Techniques
Workers transporting heavy loads should hold items close to their bodies and use their legs and core muscles to power through motions. Never twist when carrying, instead, pivot at the feet and turn the entire body. The following are tips for safe lifting:
- Assess the weight of the load before lifting.
- Remove any obstructions from the pathway before moving.
- Bend at the knees and maintain the natural curve of the back.
- Keep a firm grip on loads and wear safety gloves when moving sharp or jagged objects.
- Use hand trucks, dollies, and carts to make moving heavy objects easier.
When it comes to back injuries caused by moving and lifting heavy materials, it is always best to be cautious. Anyone concerned about hurting their back should ask for help with moving items on the job.
Provide Proper Equipment
There are countless products available on the market to make work safer for employees. As mentioned above, pallets, carts, and forklifts are essential for moving weighty materials. Anti-skid mats and other slip prevention equipment reduce workplace slip and fall accidents. On a smaller scale, ergonomic chairs, monitor stand risers, and standing desks encourage good posture for employees.
While many back injuries can be linked to a single workplace accident, employees play a big part in maintaining good back health. Focus on the factors that can be controlled to help prevent back injuries. Extra weight puts added pressure on the back, increasing the risk of injury. Maintain a healthy weight and stay fit with regular exercise to keep the back strong. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week, combined with strength training at least twice a week. Activities that improve balance and strength help reduce falls and back injuries.
What Should I Do if I Get Hurt at Work?
Despite an employer’s best efforts to keep their employees safe, accidents still happen. In Delaware, the Workers’ Compensation system provides some financial support for sick and injured workers. Different types of Worker’s Compensation benefits include:
- Medical costs
- Temporary partial and total disability benefits
- Permanent impairment benefits
- Disfigurement benefits
- Death benefits
Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim for a Back Injury
Reporting an occupational back injury to the employer as soon as possible is the first step in a Workers’ Compensation claim. Most employers have specific procedures and forms for doing so. After seeking the proper medical care for an injury and retaining all documentation, consulting with an experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer is beneficial. Legal advice for a claim is invaluable, especially when an employer denies the injury occurred at work and an appeal is necessary.
Wilmington Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Resolve Claims for Employees with Debilitating Back Injuries
If you have chronic pain because of a work-related back injury, speak to one of our trusted Wilmington Workers’ Compensation lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC for help. Call us at 302-888-1221 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Dover, Newark, and Middletown.