Back Injuries at Work

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There are several types of back injuries that occur with different symptoms:

Detail of man suffering from back pain

Sprains and strains.

  • A strain is an injury to either a muscle or tendon. Tendons are the tough, fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. With a back strain, the muscles and tendons that support the spine are twisted, pulled, or torn.
  • A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament. Ligaments are the fibrous bands of tissue that connect two or more bones at a joint and prevent excessive movement of the joint.


  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Muscle cramping or spasms (sudden uncontrollable muscle contractions)
  • Decreased function and/or range of motion of the joint (difficult walking, bending forward or
  • Sideways, or standing straight)
  • Twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon can result in a strain. It can be caused by a single instance of lifting or by over stressing the back muscles.
  • A sprain often results from a fall or sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position.

The treatment for strains and sprains is often done in two phases. The goal of the first phase is to reduce pain and spasm. This may involve rest, and the use of ice packs and pressure, especially for the first 48 hours. If symptoms continue for more than 2 weeks, additional treatment may be required (physical therapy).

Herniated disks

A herniated disc is a spine condition that occurs when the gel-like center of a disc ruptures through a weak area in the tough outer wall. Discs can bulge or herniate because of injury and lifting

  • Pain that radiates from your low back area, down one or both legs, and sometimes into your feet (sciatica)
  • You may feel a pain like an electric shock that is severe whether you stand, walk, or sit
  • Activity such as bending, lifting, twisting, and sitting may increase the pain
  • Sometimes the pain is accompanied by numbness and tingling in your leg or foot


  • Microsurgical discectomy: the surgeon makes a 1-2 inch incision in the middle of your back. To reach the damaged disc, the spinal muscles are dissected and moved aside to expose the vertebra. A portion of the bone is removed to expose the nerve root and disc. The portion of the ruptured disc that touches your spinal nerve is carefully removed. About 80-85% of patients successfully recover from a discectomy and are able to return to work in approximately 6 weeks.
  • Minimally invasive microendoscopic discectomy: the surgeon makes a tiny incision in the back. Small tubes called dilators are used with increasing diameter to enlarge a tunnel to the vertebra. A portion of the bone is removed to expose the nerve root and disc. The surgeon uses either an endoscope or microscope to remove the ruptured disc. This technique causes less muscle injury than a traditional discectomy.

Fractured vertebrae

A fractured vertebra is a break in a part of the vertebra. Vertebrae are the round, strong bones that form your spine. Fractures may be mild to severe.
Injuries to the spine while falling or during a car accident can cause your vertebra to fracture.

  • Sudden, severe, and sharp back pain
  • Back pain that gets worse when you walk or stand
  • Muscle spasms in your back
  • Problems urinating or having bowel movements
  • Sudden weakness in your arms or legs


  • Bed rest
  • Back brace
  • Cane/walker
  • Medicines
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Surgery may be needed if your pain, weakness, or numbness does not go away after other conservative treatments
  • Vertebroplasty: procedure used to place bone cement into the fractured vertebrae
  • Kyphonoplasty: procedure that uses a balloon to make a space in the fractured vertebra. Bone cement is then put inside the space made by the balloon

Open surgery returns bones to the right place and holds them together with wires, pins, plates, or screws
Have you or your loved one sustained a back injury due to an accident that happened at work? According the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries every year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. Four out of five of these injuries were to the lower back, and three out of four occurred while the employee was lifting.

At the Dan Pruitt Law Firm, we understand that you are going through a hard time, and we want to come alongside you and help you navigate the diagnosis and treatment of your work-related back injury. We want to make sure that you receive all of the benefits that you deserve.

There are three major types of work-related back injuries that someone may sustain: back strain/sprain, herniated disc, or fractured vertebrae. Each of them have different levels of severity which determine the type of treatment you may receive, ranging from over the counter painkillers to surgery. Understanding your condition and what happened when you were injured can greatly help you receive the full extent of the benefits that you deserve.

An injury to a muscle or tendon is called a back strain. This means that the bands of tissue that connect the muscles to the bones, or the bones themselves have been twisted, pulled, or torn. When you stretch or tear a ligament (what connects the bones together), it is called a sprain. Strains can be caused by a single instance of lifting or of constant overuse of the back muscles. Sprains are usually caused by a fall or a sudden twist or blow. The symptoms of a back strain/sprain include pain that gets worse when you move, muscle cramps, spasms, or decreased mobility.

Back strains and sprains are treated similarly, generally with two phases. In the first phase, the goal is to reduce pain and the spasms that the injury might have caused. In the first 48 hours, it is important to rest and apply ice and pressure to the affected area. The second phase happens when an individual has experienced back pain for more than two weeks without relief. At this point, additional treatment is required, generally in the form of physical therapy.

Herniated discs can also be very painful back injuries that happen at work. A herniated disc is the condition of your spine when the gel-like center of the disc breaks through an area of the tough outer wall. When the liquid reaches your spinal nerve, it can cause a great amount of pain and discomfort that doesn’t seem to ever go away. Discs in your spine can herniate or bulge because of injury (like a fall) or lifting. The symptoms of a herniated disc include pain that starts from your low back and travels down one or both legs and sometimes into your feet; electric shock-like pain when walking, sitting, or standing; and bending, twisting, and lifting increases the pain in your back.

To treat a herniated disc, conservative nonsurgical treatment is generally what happens first. This may include steroid injections, physical therapy, or chiropractic manipulations. Following this pattern of treatment, 80% of people are able to improve enough in 6 weeks to return to work. If these treatment methods are not helping your back pain, surgery is also an option. When you and your doctor decide that surgery is the better option, there are two different kinds of disc surgeries that you have to consider: microsurgical discectomy and microendoscopic discectomy. Microsurgical discectomy is a more invasive surgery with 1-2 inch cuts on the back. The surgeon will move the muscles and bones to be able to remove the part of the disc that has ruptured. Most patients successfully recover and can go back to work in about 6 weeks. The less invasive choice is microendoscopic discectomy. The surgeon makes tiny cuts in the back and uses dilators to make the opening big enough for the surgeon to remove the ruptured disc. That technique causes less muscle injury than a traditional back surgery.

The last back injury that is common in the workplace is a fractured vertebra. Vertebrae are the bones that support your spine. When you fall or have a blow to your back, you can injure your spine and sometimes even break the vertebrae. The symptoms of a broken vertebra in your book include sudden, severe, and sharp back pain; sudden weakness in your arms or legs; or back pain that gets worse when you walk or stand.

Treating a broken vertebra is a little different from the other back injuries. A back brace may be used for a few weeks or months to help support your back while the bone heals, or physical and occupational therapy may be put into place. Bed rest may even be implemented to make sure that you do not aggravate the healing bone even more by moving. A cane or a walker may be used until pain lessens. If your pain and weakness does not go away after other treatments, surgery may be an option. There are two types of surgeries to help fix a broken vertebra: a kyphonoplasty that cements the bone back together and an open back surgery that holds the bones in the right place with wire, pins, plates, and screws.

Dealing with a back injury can feel very debilitating and frustrating and we want to be able to support you during this time. If you were hurt at work and don’t know what to do or where to start, call the Dan Pruitt Law Firm today.



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