While many back injuries occur because of trauma from an isolated accident, some back conditions or disorders develop over time because of repetitive activities that cause microtrauma. Back problems resulting from microtrauma are especially common in workers who perform repetitive physical tasks like bending, lifting and twisting. These work injuries are both a painful and financial burden for workers, who often must limit or terminate their employment and pay expensive medical bills to diagnose and treat their back disorders.
Burden of Back Injuries
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 600,000 workers suffer from back disorders annually. Acute back conditions are a major contributing factor leading to disabilities in working-age people. The estimated costs of back injuries is around $50 billion each year in medical bills, loss of productivity, burden on workers’ compensation systems, and patient pain and suffering. As the average age of employees rises, the frequency and burden of back disorders is also expected to increase.
Phenomenon of Microtrauma
The phenomenon of microtrauma caused by repetitive activities is that it can create microtears and weaken various back muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and discs slowly over time. People do not realize these internal injuries are happening until an acute back injury occurs, because of poor lifting techniques or trying to lift too much, and results in a disabling condition or other back disorder. Although a traumatic event may seem to cause an acute back injury, it is really the years of weakening by the microtrauma at the source.
Common Back Disorders and Causes
Back injuries include sprains and strains, herniated or torn discs, fractured vertebrae, and a weakening of the spine and surrounding muscles. Some damage can be repaired through surgery or therapy. However, serious injuries can cause debilitating and lasting back pain and disorders like spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis and spinal arachnoiditis. Major causes of acute or microtrauma back injuries include lifting issues, poor workstation design, stressful work activities and major vibration exposure.
Coping With the Burden
Both employees and employers can work to prevent microtrauma and acute back injuries and disorders by ensuring work areas are safe, arranged ergonomically and that proper lifting, bending, turning and other repetitive physical movement guidelines are followed. However, many workers may already have internal microtrauma injuries and they are paying the price for previous years of damage now through expensive medical bills and having to deal with chronic back pain or disorders that limit or prevent their ability to work.
If you are a worker with chronic back pain, or you recently experienced a back injury during the course of performing work duties, you deserve the time and money needed to treat and possibly heal your injury and pain. Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in your area to discuss what help is available for your specific type of injury and how to apply for workers compensation in your state.