Back pain is exceptionally common and affects most adults at some point in their lives. In most cases, back pain is uncomplicated and will resolve on its own. However, there are many cases where new back pain at your workplace could indicate a serious injury. If you have experienced a new back injury at your workplace, contact one of our workers’ compensation lawyers at Gearhart Law Group.
The workers’ compensation system is often challenging, and connecting your injury to your current Georgia workplace or work history can be a frustrating process. However, one of our specialized workers’ compensation lawyers will make sure your case is handled and you get the benefits that you deserve.
Am I At Risk For Back Injuries at My Georgia Workplace?
Back injuries are very common and can occur during a variety of different activities or movements. However, work that emphasizes activities like heavy lifting, bending over, and prolonged sitting or standing increases the risk of developing a new back injury. These activities can cause repetitive stress to the joints and muscles of your back, and in some cases increase the risk of work-related accidents. Some professions more likely to experience back injuries include movers, drivers, contractors, and nurses.
At Gearhart Law Group we commonly represent these Georgia workplaces back Injuries:
- Degenerative Disk Disease
- Lumbar Radiculopathy
- Vertebral or Rib Fractures
- Disk Herniation
- Spondylolisthesis or Retrolisthesis
If you’ve suffered a back injury at your Georgia workplace, be sure to contact the Georgia workers’ compensation lawyers at Gearhart Law Group. We can give you the representation that you need, help get you the best treatment for your recovery, and ensure that your Georgia employer gives you the benefits that you deserve for your injury.
What Back Injuries Can Happen At My Georgia Workplace?
Your thoracic and lumbar spine, commonly referred to as your upper and lower back, make up the foundation of your trunk and connect the upper and lower body. The spine (back) is made up of several bones, called vertebrae, which are connected with fibrocartilaginous pads called intervertebral disks. The back is built to withstand large amounts of force while also allowing for some movement during everyday life.
Injuries to the spine can occur suddenly during heavy lifting, falling, or direct trauma during a crash. However, many spine injuries may develop slowly with repetitive stress from lifting, bending over, and getting in or out of vehicles.
Whether your injury developed slowly or suddenly, it’s essential to consult your trusted healthcare professional for help. Getting a diagnosis and starting injury treatment early is likely to improve your outcomes, and also provides important information for your workers’ compensation claim.
Common Workplace-Related Back Injuries
Arthritis means inflammation and pain within a joint. While there are many forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are the most common. In most cases, OA is more likely to develop at your Georgia workplace.
Developing some amount of OA in the spine is normal for most people, especially during the later years of life. However, repetitive stress on joints in the spine during repetitive or heavy lifting at your workplace can accelerate the aging process, eventually leading to OA in the back much faster than with normal joint use.
Symptoms of OA in the joints of the spine mostly include pain and stiffness with motion, sometimes with swelling around the affected joints. Progressive loss of motion at the intervertebral joints is common, and bone spurs (rough protrusions of bone) may develop over time. In most cases, OA can quickly be diagnosed using an X-ray.
Degenerative Disk Disease
Often abbreviated as DDD, degenerative disk disease refers to progressive breakdown of the intervertebral disks. This problem may occur naturally with age and regular use of the spine, but can be accelerated in certain work environments.
While DDD rarely occurs during an isolated injury, it can still be caused by your work activities. Repetitive stress and overloading in the joints of your back can speed up the natural wear of your intervertebral joints, causing eventual deterioration and fragmentation of the disks. This is most likely to occur with regular bending and lifting, but can also occur with any repetitive duties at work that place awkward compression or shearing force on the back.
The most common levels affected in DDD are L4/L5 and L5/S1. Because these disks are the lowest in the entire spine, they are subjected to the most stress and compression, making them prone to faster degeneration. However, any disk in the spine may be affected by DDD.
Symptoms of DDD may include pain and stiffness with bending and twisting of the back, limited flexibility, and back pain with repetitive movements. Changes in disk height can be diagnosed using an X-ray, but specific disk changes must be diagnosed using advanced medical imaging such as MRI.
Radiculopathy refers to pain in the extremities due to an irritated nerve. Lumbar radiculopathy involves irritation to a nerve root in the lumbar spine (low back), which often causes referred pain down the leg on the injured side. A lumbar radiculopathy is usually caused by stenosis (narrowing) around the nerve or a disk herniation pushing on the nerve root.
It’s important to note that radicular pain in the leg can also be triggered by problems related to the hip compressing or otherwise irritating the sciatic nerve. In this case, the injury is often described as sciatica.
Symptoms of lumbar radiculopathy usually involve pain in the buttock, thigh, leg, or foot in the absence of known injury. Pain is described as burning, stinging, or shooting, and may involve numbness and tingling in the lower extremity at rest (called paresthesia). Weakness of the lower body may develop over time and should be monitored carefully by a doctor.
Lumbar radiculopathy is best diagnosed using a combination of MRI and nerve conduction testing to determine the severity and nature of injury.
Vertebral or Rib Fractures
Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae may occur at any level, most commonly occurring at the bottom of the lumbar spine and the ribs, which extend from the thoracic vertebrae. Common varieties of these injuries include stress fractures and full fractures.
Stress fractures (also called hairline fractures) are small cracks in bone that are caused by excessive stress. These may develop during an accident at work such as a fall or crash, or with repetitive load on the spine or ribs during work activities.
Full fractures (both displaced and non-displaced varieties) of the vertebrae and ribs typically occur during serious accidents at work including slipping, falling, and crashing into a hard surface or corner. It’s important to note that rib fractures are more common than vertebral fractures in the workplace because rib bones are much thinner and vulnerable to direct trauma.
Fractures of the spine can be life threatening and must be accurately diagnosed using medical imaging such as an X-ray immediately. Rib fractures, although usually minor, may become dangerous if a fractured rib is displaced because it may puncture a lung if untreated. If you think you have fractured a vertebrae or your ribs, seek medical consultation immediately.
The intervertebral disks are made up of fibrous rings (the annulus fibrosus) containing a soft center (the nucleus pulposus). When excessive pressure on the disk forces the center through the surrounding layers with full exit, it is referred to as a disk herniation or disk extrusion. A disk bulge is a similar, less-severe injury where the center of the disk has not pushed out entirely.
Disk herniations usually occur due to a sudden force that puts extreme pressure on a disk. This often happens at work during heavy lifting or twisting, but can also occur during slipping or falling. In many cases repetitive stress will prime a disk for injury, leading to disk herniation during light lifting or bending over.
Symptoms of a disk herniation include profound soreness of the back with frequent radiating pain through the extremity or ribs of the affected side. These symptoms may be worse depending on the amount of pressure the herniated disk places on the nerve root. Similar to other nerve injuries, paresthesia and weakness may be present on the affected side.
A herniated disk may be suspected following an abnormal X-ray, but full diagnosis of a disk herniation is performed using MRI.
Spondylolisthesis or Retrolisthesis
The joints of your back function optimally when they are aligned evenly. When one vertebra is shifted anteriorly (forward), it is called a spondylolisthesis. When one vertebra is shifted posteriorly (backward), it is called a retrolisthesis.
Both spondylolisthesis and retrolisthesis occur due to changes in the joints connecting the vertebrae of the neck, which forces the vertebrae to become misaligned. These changes may occur at your workplace as a result of repetitive stress during bending and lifting, but can also occur during sudden trauma or shearing on the joints in your back.
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis and retrolisthesis include painful bending or extending the spine and deep soreness at the injured level. Progressive changes in vertebral positioning may place pressure on the spinal cord, sometimes causing radiating pain or weakness into both sides of the body – this is considered a serious problem and should be diagnosed immediately.
Both of these problems can be diagnosed using X-ray imaging, although MRI is required to determine the presence of spinal cord or nerve injuries.
Are There Treatments Available for My Back Injury?
Many back injuries are treatable with the expectation of full or partial return to work. That said, your specific outcomes will vary depending on your unique injury case. It’s very important to seek diagnosis and treatment early to optimize your recovery and establish your workers’ compensation case.
For almost all back injuries, your doctor will recommend physical therapy to decrease your pain and improve your physical function. Physical therapy uses a variety of exercise methods to increase range of motion and strength in your back with a focus on pain management. For some back injuries such as a stress fracture, your medical doctor or physical therapist will prescribe a back brace to protect your injury during early stages of healing.
For back injuries that do not improve or worsen with physical therapy, a steroid injection may be used to reduce inflammation and maximize participation in rehab. Advanced injuries including severe DDD, fractures, and disk herniations may require surgical intervention. Common surgeries for the back include laminectomy, microdiscectomy, spinal fusion, and disk replacement.
Common Back Surgeries In Workers’ Compensation
Back surgeries are often reserved to manage severe pain and disability due to a back injury where all other treatments have failed. In these cases, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon who specializes in neuro-spinal surgeries. Some common back surgeries include Laminectomy, Microdiscectomy, Fusion and Disk replacement.
The laminae are arched segments of a vertebrae which form a roof above the spinal cord and exiting nerves. When changes to the bone occur (either via progressive OA or fractures), the lamina may place pressure on the spinal cord or nerves and cause severe pain or weakness. A laminectomy is performed to remove the bone segment, relieving pressure on the spinal cord and restoring function in most cases.
A laminectomy may be performed in the thoracic spine (upper back), though is most commonly performed in the lumbar spine (lower back) due to increased likelihood of degenerative changes. This procedure is performed under general anesthesia and requires multiple days in the hospital for observation.
This procedure is performed when a disk herniation is causing significant symptoms and is not resolving with physical therapy, medications, or steroid injections. During a microdiscectomy, the protruding disk is “clipped” to facilitate closing and healing of the intervertebral disk walls. This procedure is fairly quick and does not usually require a stay in the hospital.
Spinal fusion is a complex procedure that is performed when disk degeneration or vertebral degeneration becomes profoundly symptomatic or dangerous to the health of the spinal cord. In this procedure, multiple vertebrae are fused together to prevent movement of the vertebrae and impingement of the spinal cord. This is a very complex surgery and may require several days in the hospital after the procedure. Similar to other surgeries, spinal fusion is only performed when other treatments have failed to alleviate pain and restore function.
Intervertebral disc arthroplasty, which is commonly known as disc replacement, is a method for replacing severely damaged disks in the spine. In this procedure the natural intervertebral disk is removed and an artificial disk is installed in replacement. The largest benefit of a disk replacement is that mobility in the spine can be maintained, which would be lost following a spinal fusion surgery. However, in the case of excessive mobility or “loose” vertebrae, a spinal fusion may be required to protect the spinal cord. This procedure may or may not require a hospital stay.