Back injuries are often debilitating and can happen when you least expect it if you aren’t careful. You may know a friend who has told you they sneezed wrong and doing so caused them to blow their back out. Of course, those instances stem from larger issues, but back problems can halt your daily routines and really cost you if you don’t know what to look out for, especially on the job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for one out of every five workplace injuries. And of those back injuries, 80% of the lower back injuries are caused by physical materials handling jobs and overextension or twisting of the spine from heavy lifting, pulling, pushing, or even poor posture while sitting for prolonged periods.
A back injury can make it difficult to do even the most basic of jobs, but back injuries are especially common for those working construction.
Knowing the anatomy of our back is essential to identifying any more serious problems that may occur, so let’s break down the anatomy of our back and the problems therein to better pinpoint the problem area:
- Thoracic (mid back): This is a part of your spine located in the chest/rib area and going to your mid back. They are a common area for injuries and quite severe because these can cause nerve damage, sometimes even permanently. Thoracic back problems stem from high-impact injuries and symptoms to look out for are muscle spasms, tingling, numbness, stiffness, weakness and/or pain in the ribs, shoulder neck legs or arms.
- Lumbar (lower back): “Lumbar support” is just a fancy name for lower back support. The lumbar is the lower region of the spine that bears a lot of the weight of the body, especially when we sit down. Lower back injuries like sprains and strains limit movement of our bodies ability to do tasks, with symptoms ranging tenderness to swelling.
Other key parts of our back include the disks, which are fluid-filled pouches between the vertebrae. Disks separate and cushion each vertebra in the back. There are also bands of thick tissue that surround your spine called ligaments. They help keep the spinal column in place while it moves and bends.
Now that you know which parts to look out for, let’s go into WHY your back may be hurting.
Why does my back hurt?
There are many reasons you could be experiencing back pain, such as:
- Pinched nerves: A pinched nerve occurs when you put too much pressure on a nerve. A disk, tendon, or muscle may be the culprit. Some herniated disk pain goes away after a time, but most of the time, it’s best to seek medical attention for pain relief and exercise techniques.
- Herniated disk: A herniated disk the soft cushions of rubbery fluid filled pouches that sit between the vertebrae that make up your spine These pouches can slip or rupture hence the term “slipped disk.”
- Strained muscles: Also called a pulled muscle, this injury occurs when you tear or overstretch your muscle. These injuries can be a result of overuse ,or improper use of a muscle. Strains can happen in any muscle, but they’re most common in your lower back, shoulder, hamstring and neck.
- Sprained ligaments: A lower back sprain is caused when ligaments are torn from their attachments. This can result from a sudden injury or from gradual overuse. Lumbar strain or sprain can be debilitating.
- Poor posture: If you go a long time with poor posture, like hunching while standing or sitting, that can cause your back to become strained and painful. By reducing blood supply and slowly developing stiffness and weakness in the trunk and lower back, poor posture is something to really be aware of when sitting.
- Incorrect lifting: A majority of injuries caused by incorrect lifting techniques fall into the categories of muscle or ligament sprain, so always make sure you are using the proper lifting techniques every time you have to lift something heavy. If possible, a dolly is always preferred when lifting 50lbs or more.
- Fractured vertebra: There are 3 types of fractures that can occur in your spine; flexion, extension, and rotation. These are very serious injuries and should be looked at immediately. A fracture of the thoracic or lumbar spine causes moderate to severe back pain that is made worse with movement.
- Spinal cord injury: The most severe of back injuries. A spinal cord injury can cause permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury. Numbness and paralysis can be outcomes of this injury and they should be taken very seriously.
Ways to help prevent back injuries
Preventing injuries is the best way to make sure you are safe on the job. Many occupations, from regular office work to construction and favory work can add demands on your body that require extra care to keep you safe and healthy. Understanding how to prevent back injuries will give you a leg up when it comes to knowing what to look out for when on the job. Here’s some ways you can make sure you are taking precautions to keeping yourself out of the doctor’s office:
- Exercise daily. Whether it’s stretching, weight lifting or cardio, strengthening your body, and most importantly your back, will keep you from overexerting on the job. Remember not to overdo it and always listen to your body. Stretching for 5-10 min every morning before you go to work can go a long way to help keep you from strains and sprains. Here are a few exercises that can help keep your back strong and help you reduce injuries: chair crunches, front squats, hip lifts, plant holds, kneeling extensions, chin-ups and pull ups. Never go all in on an exercise you aren’t familiar with, ease into any new position and always give your body time to catch up.
- Practice proper lifting. Many work injuries occur while lifting. To help minimize getting hurt, always lift with your knees, and never your back. Keep whatever it is you are lifting close to your body. To help keep your back strong, refer to the list above on what exercises you can do to help keep your back sturdy and fit.
- Change up repetitive tasks. Use dollies and lifting devices when possible for large hauls. Alternate more physically demanding jobs with less demanding ones when you can. Try to avoid unnecessary reaching, twisting and bending as well.
Talk to Sundquist Law Firm
Work injuries aren’t inevitable, but they do happen and it’s important to know how your body is affected and what to do if you get injured and need assistance or help.
We’ve discussed how common workplace injuries are and how important it is that they be handled correctly. It’s also important to remember that millions of people every year face this same struggle and you’re not in this alone.
With a survey estimating Minnesota having close to 73,000 OSHA-recorded non-fatal workplace injury or illnesses in 2019, it is important to know who is looking out for the working American.
Sundquist Law can help. We’re happy to help you fill out forms, prepare your evidence, and make your claim. If you have been injured on the job and need assistance getting your worker’s comp benefits, then contact Sundquist Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota — The Union Members Law Firm.