Major and minor back problems are a common cause of missed workdays, workers’ comp claims, and just general loss of productivity and morale. Those injuries sometimes result from accidents at work, but more often from poor work habits and lack of physical fitness. Minor muscle strains and pains are common for many reasons. Some back pains indicate a significant injury to discs, lower back muscles, or the spine. These two causes of back pain and injury are easy to address by understanding them and making small changes at work.
The Nature of Back Injuries
Disease, heavy lifting, lifting with poor form, or doing repetitive movements can all injure muscles and ligaments. The muscles in the lower back, in particular, are prone to be strained or torn, which can produce symptoms from mild soreness to severe, acute pain. A herniated disc, or a ruptured disc, may result from an accident, but the disk itself may not be painful.
Diseases can sometimes weaken the lower back and cause severe pain. Osteoarthritis can lead weaken the lower back, making pain and injury more likely. A condition resulting from osteoarthritis called spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord shrinks. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain in the lower back, including tumors, infections, and kidney stones.
Leading Causes of Back Pain Injury
Back pain usually comes about because of inactivity, repetitive motion, and excessive strain or force. A poorly designed workspace, one where you have to sit awkwardly at a desk for hours, encourages bad habits. Sitting all day in a chair with poor back support or poor posture increases back pain risk. Lifting a significant amount of weight incorrectly can injure a back muscle. Repetitive movements can also strain a muscle or pinch a nerve. You can reduce your risk of back pain by making a few minor changes to your behavior at work.
Back Injury Prevention at Work
Back problems can usually be avoided by taking some easy steps:
- Modify repetitive tasks – Alternate work that requires heavy lifting with work that requires no lifting at all. Use a headset or speakerphone if you often talk on the phone and write at the same time. If working at a computer most of the day, consider switching positions, so one has access to the mouse and keyboard from both left and right sides.
- Watch your posture – Bad posture puts extra strain on the spine and back muscles, producing back pain over time. Arrange your workspace so your arms can bend at a 90-degree angle, and you can look more or less directly at the monitor. If you stand up most of the day, consider spending extra on shoes with good support. Wearing the wrong shoes can put more strain on your back, legs, and hips.
- Learn to lift properly – Never lift with your lower back. Bend at the knees and lift while keeping your back straight. Use a dolly or hand truck to help you lift and move heavy objects.
- Don’t sit more than necessary – If your job keeps you behind a desk most of the time, find excuses to get up and walk around. Stand up while talking on the phone. Walk around the office for a few minutes each hour.
Lifestyle factors that have nothing to do with work can reduce your risk of experiencing back pain. Exercise can reduce the odds of experience muscle strain from everyday activities. Maintain a healthy weight by eating right and getting regular exercise. Learning to maintain good posture, whether sitting or standing, is also important. Smoking, being obese, and being sedentary are risk factors for back pain.
Back Pain Symptoms
Most signs of a serious back problem are easy to detect. Sharp pain or acute low back pain always indicate a health issue. But acute back pain is far from the only main sign of a serious problem. Back pain that follows a blow to the back, neck, or another injury calls for immediate medical attention.
See a worker’s comp doctor if your pain lasts more than a few weeks and doesn’t improve with rest. If your back pain comes with numbness or tingling in the legs, leg weakness, or is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, talk to a doctor. Loss of bladder or bowel control or fever indicates an underlying medical problem that has must be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment for Workplace-Related Injuries
You can treat a minor ache or pain with bed rest, plus some over-the-counter pain medicine and a hot pack offer pain relief and help your back heal. For a minor injury, you might not even need to stay in bed; just ease up on activities until the pain goes away.
However, if the pain persists or is severe, you would definitely need to see a doctor to get the cause of your pain diagnosed. Depending on the issue, a doctor may prescribe medication, physical therapy, or a surgical procedure.
A doctor will have to assess your injury, as back pain alone might not indicate how serious the problem is. Your doctor may ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. The doctor will probably ask you about your ability to sit, stand, and lift your leg. Additional tests, like an MRI or bone scan, might prove necessary to diagnose the problem. Once the doctor knows what happened, they may prescribe one of several treatments:
- Muscle relaxants – If standard over-the-counter medicine doesn’t work, the doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant.
- Topical pain relievers – An over-the-counter lotion or rub might be enough. A doctor might prescribe a stronger, prescription-strength option.
- Narcotics – Opioid pain relievers can be useful in treating acute pain for a limited time.
- Antidepressants – Some of these drugs work on chronic back pain.
Doctors sometimes prescribe physical therapy for serious back problems.
Your doctor may also prescribe one of three treatments. Nerve stimulation, cortisone injections, and a procedure called radiofrequency neurotomy might also be part of your treatment regimen.
We Can Connect You With a Back Injury Specialist in Workers Comp Doctors
If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, it could be time to look for a new specialist. A good back injury specialist can ease your pain, heal your injured back, and get you back to normal life—so don’t hesitate to look for an experienced workers’ comp doctor as soon as possible. For soreness in the neck or lower spine, you might want to ask about our chiropractors who specialize in helping patients with these types of ailments. And if you have been sidelined by a work-related injury but are not sure what kind of care is best suited for you, we’ll help you evaluate your options.