Back Injuries Suffered on the Job
In 1908, the federal government became the first employer to provide workers’ compensation benefits to its employees. Since then, the program has grown and most employers are required to offer workers’ compensation benefits. In Florida, an employer with four or more employees (full- or part-time) must hold workers’ compensation insurance.
Back injuries are some of the most commonly reported workplace injuries. In fact, according to the American Chiropractic Association, about 50 percent of all working Americans suffer from back pain, resulting in more than 264 million missed days at work. Back injuries can be very painful and can limit a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks. If you have suffered a back injury because of a workplace accident, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you fight for appropriate compensation.
Common Back Injuries
The spine consists of the spinal cord, vertebrae, and spinal discs. The spinal cord is a long, narrow structure containing nerves that relay messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The spine’s vertebrae are divided into three sections: the cervical spine (the vertebrae in your neck); the thoracic spine (the vertebrae in the middle of your back); and the lumbar spine (the vertebrae at the base of your spine). Spinal discs are your body’s cushion between the vertebrae. These discs are filled with fluid, and include an inner layer of soft cartilage surrounded by a tougher outer cartilage layer. Complex muscle structures also support your spine, help keep your body upright, and allow you to move around. An injury to the spine or the surrounding muscles can cause tremendous pain and limit your mobility.
Common back injuries include:
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Back strains are common both on and off the clock. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, lower back strains are the most common cause of back pain. A strain occurs when you stretch your muscles too far. In some cases, a strain can cause muscle fibers to tear. Back strains are usually minor injuries but they can cause significant pain. Treatment usually includes rest and pain medication.
Bulging or Herniated Discs
When spinal discs become damaged, the fluid inside them can begin to leak and in some cases the discs may burst. A bulging disc occurs when the outer cartilage is weakened, causing the inner cartilage to bulge out. When you have a herniated disc, the inner cartilage pushes through the outer layer. This can put pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain.
The Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that the majority of spinal fractures happen in the thoracic and lumbar spine. On the job, these injuries are most commonly caused by falls and auto accidents. Medical imaging and a physical exam can help detect a spinal fracture. In severe cases, these injuries can include damage to the spinal cord or a brain injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is the body’s communication system between the brain and the rest of the body. Spinal cord injuries can be some of the most devastating types of injuries. The cord may become damaged when it is bruised or severed because of a blow or penetrating injury. Injury to the spinal cord can lead to full or partial paralysis. The location of the injury will determine how much movement a person retains below the point of injury. In most cases, paralysis is permanent.
Signs That You May Have a Back Injury
For many, the symptoms of a back injury can be easily overlooked, particularly if you have suffered from back pain in the past. While symptoms will vary depending on the type of injury you have, there are some signs that you have a serious injury that requires medical attention. These include:
- Back pain: The most obvious sign of a back injury is pain. This pain is more than a dull ache that goes away on its own. If you have pain that lasts for more than a few days, you may have injured your back. Pain comes in different forms and may be aching, stabbing, or radiating through your limbs. If you experience back pain after a fall or as a result of heavy lifting, you may want to consider visiting a doctor.
- Difficulty walking, bending, or turning: Inflammation in your back can make simple tasks like walking extremely painful. This type of pain might force you to change the way you move to compensate. You may also notice that it is difficult to bend over or look over your shoulder. You should never ignore changes in your mobility.
- Numbness or tingling: It’s normal for your legs to go to sleep now and then, but frequent numbness or tingling in your back, arms, or legs are not normal. If you experience these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Common Back Injury Causes
Back injuries are often preventable. Taking certain steps to stay safe at work can reduce your chance of causing yourself injury. Common back injury causes include:
- Improper lifting: You’ve probably heard that you should always lift with your legs. Using the proper lifting mechanics can help prevent a back injury. Nurses, production workers, and tradesmen are at particularly high risk for lower back strains.
- Falls: The sudden impact of a fall can cause serious damage to your spine. An employer is responsible for maintaining a safe workplace free of spills and other dangers that may cause an employee to fall. Fall-related back injuries can include bulging or herniated discs, fractures, or back strains.
- Auto accidents: workers’ compensation will cover injuries sustained in an auto accident if you were performing job duties while driving. While whiplash is common in auto injuries, more serious injuries like spinal cord injuries and fractures can happen in serious accidents.
Back injuries can be extremely painful. After an injury, your doctor will discuss possible treatment options with you. Your doctor will likely want to try the least invasive approach to eliminate your pain before considering other more invasive options, like surgery. Common treatment options for back injuries include:
- Pain medication: Pain medication is one of the most commonly prescribed courses of treatment for a back injury. For minor injuries, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications like Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. For chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants or narcotic medication.
- Massage: For muscle injuries, therapeutic massage can help relieve some or all of your pain. There are many benefits of massage including increased blood flow and reduced muscle tension. Massage can also help you relax, which in itself can help reduce pain. Massage therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments including chiropractic care and physical therapy.
- Chiropractic care: There are different opinions regarding the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for back pain. Because of this, you should talk to your employer about whether they will cover chiropractic treatment. The goal of chiropractic care is to realign your spine to reduce or eliminate pain. This is done through gentle, focused adjustments at a chiropractic office.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy is often recommended for chronic back pain. A physical therapist may use exercise or therapeutic treatments like heat packs, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units, and ultrasound to help reduce pain. Physical therapy can prove necessary for weeks or months, depending on the patient’s response to treatment.
- Injections: Epidural steroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation in the back. In many cases, steroid injections can greatly reduce the amount of swelling in the spine and help relieve pain. These injections are often recommended before moving on to spinal surgery.
- Surgery: Spinal surgery is generally a last resort to resolve back pain. However, there are some cases where surgery is the only option, such as in the case of spinal cord injuries. The type of surgery you might need depends on the type of injury you have. Recovery can be long and painful and usually requires substantial time off from work.What Will My Workers’ Compensation Settlement Cover?
A workers’ compensation claim is a little different than a typical personal injury claim. While many of the same costs apply, items like pain and suffering are not covered by workers’ compensation. Your settlement may include:
- Medical costs: Workers’ compensation covers 100 percent of all medical costs associated with a workplace injury. To qualify for these benefits, the employee can only seek care from providers the employer authorizes. Medical coverage includes doctor visits, surgeries, medication, and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages: If you are unable to return to work because of your injury, you will likely receive temporary total disability payments to compensate you for missed time at work. You can only receive these benefits if the injury keeps you out of work for at least seven days. Payments will begin on the 8th day of missed work and will be equal to two-thirds of your average weekly wage. If you can return to work in a limited capacity, you will receive temporary partial disability payments. The maximum time you can receive these benefits is two years.
- Vocational rehabilitation: If your injury is so severe that you are unable to return to your previous line of work, you may be eligible for vocational retraining. This program will provide training and/or schooling to help you learn skills to qualify for a new job.
- Disability: After you are injured, your doctor will evaluate you and determine whether you have a permanent disability. Your doctor will give you a disability rating once they have determined that you are medically stable, meaning they do not think you will get better or worse. The insurance company will use this rating to determine your impairment benefit.
Can My Employer Deny My Claim?
After you file a workers’ compensation claim with your employer, the information will go to your employer’s insurance company. The insurance company will then decide whether they will accept or deny your claim. The insurance cannot deny your claim without just cause. If you would like to know what to do after your claim gets denied here are some of the most common reasons a Florida workers’ compensation claim is denied include:
- The claim was not timely filed: Florida law requires all workplace accidents to be reported within 30 days of an accident or 30 days from the time a doctor diagnoses you with a workplace injury. While you legally have 30 days, it is usually best to report the accident as soon as it happens.
- The injury did not happen at work: Sometimes injuries occur off the clock and an event at work exacerbates the condition. If this is the case, the insurance company will likely deny your claim.
- A preexisting condition: A preexisting condition cannot prevent you from filing a workers’ compensation claim. If your claim is denied because of a preexisting condition, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you with an appeal.
- The injury was not serious enough: There are some cases where the insurance company may feel that the degree of your injury is not serious enough to warrant compensation. Examples include minor lacerations, bumps and bruises, and minor strains.
- Drug or alcohol use: Florida statute 440.09 states that if an employee is found to be under the influence of drugs or to have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit, their drug or alcohol use is assumed to be the primary cause of the accident.
- Fraud: An employer has the right to deny your claim if they believe that you lied about your injury or the circumstances surrounding it or if you intentionally caused your own injury. In addition to a denied claim, you could face termination and legal repercussions.
Contact an Attorney if You Still Have Questions
Back injuries happen every day. But far too many workers accept them as something they just have to live with. If you were injured at work, you may be eligible for compensation. A workers’ compensation settlement can help you focus on your recovery so you can return to work without pain.
If you were injured at work, contact an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer for more information. If your claim is denied, an experienced workers’ comp attorney can help you determine whether you should appeal your claim.
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