How do we injure our back at work?

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Back injuries are one of the most common work place injuries. In fact, they represent next in line to the common cold for absenteeism from work. OSHA lists back disorders as one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years and afflict over 600,000 employees each year with a cost of about $50 billion annually. The frequency and economic impact of back injuries and disorders on the work force are expected to increase over the next several decades as the average age of the work force increases and medical costs go up.

There are various back injuries including sprains/strains, herniations, bulging disks, and fractures. OSHA reports in their technical manual that back disorders result from exceeding the capability of the muscles, tendons, discs, or the cumulative effect of several contributors including:

  • Reaching while lifting.
  • Poor posture–how one sits or stands.
  • Bad body mechanics–how one lifts, pushes, pulls, or carries objects.
  • Poor design of job or work station.
  • Repetitive lifting of awkward items, equipment, or (in health-care facilities) patients.
  • Twisting while lifting.
  • Bending while lifting.
  • Heavy lifting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Poor footing such as slippery floors, or constrained posture.
  • Lifting with forceful movement.
  • Vibration, such as with lift truck drivers, delivery drivers, etc.

Often times, back injuries are short in duration and workers are able get back to normal.About 90 % of people with back injuries will get better without treatment or with conservative therapies. Treatment can include a various modalities including physical therapy, chiropractic, injections and medication. For some, the pain and suffering is long-term. And for a small percentage of people, it is lifelong. For employees with long-term, disabling musculoskeletal injuries, the ability to earn a living and quality of life goes down.

In some cases, when conservative measures have failed, surgery may be warranted. Typically, surgery is reserved in cases where the nerve is pinched, spinal cord is compressed or there is too much space between the vertebra. Symptoms which typically mean there is serious underlying condition include symptoms( i.e. numbness, tingling, pain, etc) into the extremities and lost of bladder or bowel control.

Back injuries can occur from the heaviest to the lightest type work. Workers’ compensation benefits are available to afford an injured employee the time and resources to get better. The Mayo clinic recommends to prevent recurrent back problems to use good body mechanics, keep your back muscles conditioned with regular exercise and stretching, and control your weight.