Workplace back injuries: what you should know

Back injuries account for about one-third of all occupational injuries.

Many of us have experienced some sort of workplace back pain, be it a "twinge" from sitting at a desk too long or screaming agony after unsuccessfully trying to pick up a heavy package. On-the-job back injuries are surprisingly common and take a great economic toll on workers across America. Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reveals that about one-third of all workplace accidents and injuries involve back pain, and it results in (through missed workdays, lost productivity and more) approximately $7.4 billion lost from our economy annually.

Repetitive stress injuries

A key cause of back injuries and related back pain is repetitive stress, sometimes called repetitive strain or repetitive motion. This is relatively common among people who work on assembly lines, those who stock shelves, and those who do computer work. Frequently turning to and from a quick-moving assembly line, for example, can easily strain muscles, leading to fatigue and a higher chance that an injury can occur to underlying tissues.

The same goes for people who work on a computer all day. Sitting at a desk may not initially seem like it would be particularly strenuous, but doing so without proper ergonomics, posture and support will strain the spine. This can result in serious back pain, pinched nerves, carpal tunnel syndrome (characterized by pain, numbness and weakness in the hands), slipped disks and more.

Lifting injuries

Another common cause of back injuries is lifting. Lifting heavy objects like patients or packages can easily result in pain and underlying damage. Workers who commonly suffer lifting-related injuries include:

  • Nurses, orderlies, attendants, physical therapists and other staff charged with assisting, repositioning and lifting patients in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other facilities
  • Workers who load - and unload - heavy cargo and packages from commercial vehicles
  • Employees responsible for stocking shelves and loading or unloading pallets of material
  • Furniture movers
  • Delivery drivers regularly tasked with delivering packages in excess of 50 pounds or more

While there is no one way to prevent all on-the-job back pain, there are ways to decrease the chances that you'll suffer a debilitating back injury. Frequent breaks, where you get a chance to reposition your body and relax tensed muscles can go a long way toward preventing injury. Using proper lifting technique is also vital. Whenever you are lifting something heavy, remember to use your legs, engage your core muscles, and to hold the object as close to your body as possible. Having supplemental equipment or personnel at hand to lift heavy objects is also important; such things as dollies/hand-trucks, forearm lifting straps, furniture sliders and team lifting can all help prevent injury.

Even if you take the proper precautions, it's still possible to suffer an on-the-job back injury. You can be left in debilitating pain unless you are treated promptly and properly. If you were hurt at work, you only have a limited time to report the claim and seek workers' compensation benefits. If you have questions about time-frames for reporting an injury and collecting benefits, getting your medical expenses covered, or appealing a denied work comp claim, reach out to an experienced workers' compensation attorney in your area.