If you hurt your back at work, you probably realize how few injuries can have the pervasive effect of a back injury. The pain can be debilitating and invade everything you do. It isn’t until your back is hurt that you realize just how many movements are dependent upon it.
In short, by the grace of your back go you.
Back injuries are not just incapacitating, they are the most prevalent of all workplace injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million back injuries are reported every year, constituting 20% of all workplace injuries and illnesses. If you’ve hurt your back at work, learn about what may be happening to your spine.
The regions of the spine
The spine itself is separated into five regions: the cervical region (neck), the thoracic region (mid-back), the lumbar region (lower back), the sacrum, and the coccyx. For our purposes, we will focus on disc herniations in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine as these are among the most common injuries that we see as Atlanta injury lawyers and they can be some of the most painful.
The upper three regions of the vertebral column usually consist of 24 vertebrae separated by fibrous, spongy discs that hold the vertebrae together, allow for movement, and spread the load along the spine. Within the core of each disc is a jelly-like substance that distributes pressure evenly across the disc, acting essentially as a shock absorber.
The cervical region contains seven vertebrae and allow for movement of the head. The thoracic region is made up of 12 vertebrae that are less mobile, serving to hold the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs. The lumbar region has five larger vertebrae designed to bear the weight of the body, absorbing the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects.
The discs between each of these vertebrae can degenerate from age or strain and prolapse, which means the jelly-like core that provides cushioning begins to squeeze out, or even rupture completely. This is a disc herniation. A loss of cushioning between the vertebrae results in compression that puts pressure on the local nerves, causing pain in the back or neck, numbness or tingling in the arms and fingers, or shooting pain down one or both legs. A severe prolapse can cause damage to the spinal cord itself.
Symptoms of a disc herniation
Symptoms of a disc herniation vary depending on where on the spine it occurs and what nerve root is being pushed. The symptoms can include:
- Intermittent or continuous back pain
- Spasms in the back muscles
- Sciatic pain that originates in the lower back and radiates down the legs
- Muscle weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
- Poor reflexes in the ankles or the knees
- Altered bladder and bowel function
- Incoordination or difficulty with gait
Disc herniation can occur any number of ways in the workplace. Whether from slips and falls, ladder accidents, car accidents or even from excessive bending, lifting, or carrying heavy objects, herniations can happen to anyone. Regardless of cause, a sound medical diagnosis is imperative. Diagnostic techniques begin with a physical examination and then can include CT scans, MRIs, discograms or myelograms. A proper diagnosis is vital to determining the proper treatment of the injury, which can range from bed rest to physical therapy to surgery.
Employers should ensure a safe working environment
Employers, of course, have a responsibility to ensure a safe working environment and, considering that, according to OSHA, one-quarter of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, it’s logical that employers implement administrative and engineering controls in the workplace. Administrative controls involve proper testing, training and conditioning of employees while engineering controls address the safety of the job itself. Without the implementation of such controls, employers put themselves at risk of liability and their employees at risk of serious injury.
Get help from our Workers Comp Lawyers
If you’ve hurt your back at work, you’ll want to take care that you receive all of the benefits that you are entitled to as a Georgia employee. Contact our law offices to speak to a knowledgeable Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer about your claim at 404-354-5432.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.