Common Back Injuries in the Workplace
You go to the doctor because of a dull ache in the lower back, or maybe back pain is limiting your mobility. Maybe you can’t sit or stand for long periods because it makes your back hurt. The doctor asks whether you injured yourself. You may be able to pinpoint a specific incident, you may not.
That’s a common scenario. The fact is, a sudden awkward motion can sprain or strain your back without causing immediate serious pain. Or you could be a victim of repetitive motion/lifting at work that damages the spine, muscles, or soft tissue over time without your body letting you know. Even office workers are at risk for back injuries. Over time, the way you sit can cause a serious sprain or strain.
At the Kenton Koszdin Law Office, our skilled legal team has more than a decade of experience helping people who have suffered back injuries at work. We have an in-depth understanding of how to navigate the California workers’ compensation system, and we are here to help you pursue the benefits you need during this difficult time. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
Common Types of Back Injuries
A back injury is damage to bone, muscle, tissue, or nerve anywhere from the neck to the pelvis. The primary injuries are sprains and strains, which sound fairly innocuous but can be excruciatingly painful and even immobilize you.
A sprain is damage to ligaments connecting bone to bone. There are three degrees of sprains:
- First degree – some tearing, pain, and swelling
- Second degree – a broad range of damage with moderate instability, pain, and swelling
- Third degree – a ruptured ligament with severe pain and swelling (and typically damage of other tissue)
A strain is damage from stretching or tearing a tendon, muscle, or other soft tissue. There are three degrees of strains:
- First degree – minimal tearing of tissue, mild pain, and little effect on range of motion
- Second degree – torn muscle or tendon with limited motion and some swelling or depression at the site of the injury
- Third degree – motion greatly or completely restricted with severe initial pain that can disappear after the injury occurs
Lumbar and thoracic spinal fractures can result from trauma or prolonged stress. The fractures can go undetected if discomfort from the injury initially is minimal. They also can be immediately crippling.
Spinal dislocations are when ligaments or discs (or both) linking two or more vertebrae stretch or are torn. Misalignment of bones can occur. A fracture-dislocation is when both occur.
A bulging disc, herniated disc, pinched nerve, or other disc problems can also result in severe back pain. The spinal discs between vertebrae act as the back’s shock absorbers. If an activity, repetitive motion, or trauma puts too much pressure on them, they can rupture (herniated disc) or lose their shape (bulging disc).
The back is an incredible load-bearing structure. When injured, it can cause serious and ongoing problems for workers. If you have suffered a back injury due to a workplace accident or long-term overuse, you need to learn about your right to workers’ compensation benefits.
Symptoms of Back Injuries
Pain is not a good thing, but it serves a purpose. Whether it is a dull ache in the lower back or a stabbing pain in the upper back, legs, or arms, it’s there for a reason. The smart thing is to see a doctor right away to determine what it is so you can get relief and minimize damage.
Here’s what to look for after you suffer an injury that can produce short- or long-term back problems.
- Pain that increases with movement
- Pain that radiates to the buttocks, feet, and legs
- Pain that worsens with prolonged sitting
- Pain that eases when you change positions
- Pain that is worse when you wake up and eases as you move around
- Muscle cramping and spasms, occasionally with uncontrollable contractions
- Decreased function/mobility
- Bruising, discoloration, swelling
- Numbness and tingling
- Changes in bowel and bladder function
- Full or partial paralysis
Your pain may be sharp or dull, constant or sporadic, spread over a large area or focused in one spot. Even if you don’t know what the pain means, take it as a signal to seek treatment for your back injury. Be sure to tell your doctor that your injury is work-related.
Diagnosing a Back Injury
The first step in getting the treatment you need for a back injury is the diagnosis. If a specific incident was the starting point, knowing that helps narrow the field of potential problems. Or your doctor may discuss your work habits and duties to identify ongoing issues that could be causing your pain.
The initial exam includes assessment of mobility and any issues with sitting or standing. Expect questions about pain levels and potential causes. Methods for identifying the problem include:
- X-rays to assess conditions of bones
- CT scans or MRIs that can detect herniated discs and problems with other soft tissue
- A blood test to rule out infection
- A bone scan to rule out tumors or compression fractures
- Electomyography (nerve studies) to assess nerve and muscle function and damage to your spinal cord
After performing the diagnostic tests, the medical team will identify a treatment plan.
Treatment for Back Injuries
Many people don’t immediately seek medical care for back pain, even when acute. Sometimes nonprescription painkillers, ice packs, heating pads, and staying active can do the trick. If several weeks of home remedies fail, turn to the professionals.
This can include:
- Medications – This may include over-the-counter painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, injections to fight inflammation/pain, muscle relaxants, or topical medication applied to the injury site.
- Physical therapy and exercise – You may be sent for physical therapy that can include muscle relaxation methods and electrical stimulation, as well as instruction on an at-home regimen of exercise.
- Surgery – Although this is typically a last resort, issues such as spinal stenosis and herniated discs can mean one or more trips to the operating room.
- Education – Your doctor will likely talk to you about how to avoid further injuries and minimize emotional stress related to your injury.
The physical toll of back injuries at work has an emotional price, too, thanks to the excruciating pain and physical limitations back problems can inflict. Lost workdays, up to and including the inability to return to your job, can be a part of this. That increases a financial burden that can be crushing when you include the mountain of medical bills that will accumulate.
If you suffered an on-the-job back injury, you need to report it to your employer right away and seek appropriate treatment. You should then contact our respected workers’ compensation law firm to learn what types of benefits you may be entitled to receive.
Let Our Workers’ Compensation Attorney Help You
At the Kenton Koszdin Law Office, we are devoted to the needs of disabled and injured people battling for workers’ compensation and Social Security disability payments. Kenton Koszdin is driven by his personal experience that gives him a keen understanding of his clients’ needs.
Our law firm has a thorough understanding of the California workers’ compensation system and will fight for the compensation you need to make it through this difficult time. Contact us today for a free case evaluation, including a free in-home consultation if necessary.