Injuries at Work: Sudden Trauma or Chronic Strain?

Work-related spinal injuries fall into two broad categories. Some are acute. A fall from a height (ladder or scaffold), malfunctioning machinery, or lifting a heavy load while using poor technique are a few of the situations that may lead to a back or neck injury.

back or neck injury at workAcute back or neck pain may be due to a sprained and strained muscle, herniated disc, nerve compression, or other causes.

Other work-related injuries are chronic in nature. These come on gradually, and may not be taken seriously by the employee until he or she is partially disabled.

A chronic injury is often caused by repetitive motion. Performing the same task repeatedly (or staying in the same position for prolonged periods of time) may cause wear-and-tear on the joints, cartilage or muscles. The gel-like substance in our vertebral discs thins with age, and may not protect the joints as well as it did in our youth. Tiny nerves that exit the spinal canal, connecting the brain to our organs, legs and arms, may become pinched.

For the patient, spinal injury can make itself known a number of ways. Low back pain that ebbs and flows in intensity, tingling or numbness in limbs or extremities, restricted movement of the neck . . . all may be symptoms of a spinal injury.

More seriously, the injury may progress to the point of immobility, loss of muscle control or bladder or bowel malfunction.

Identify the Cause of Back or Neck Pain

Our first task is to identify what is causing the problem. Treatment depends on the nature and severity of the injury. The patient may not be aware that his or her job is the source of the pain. Workers who sit all day and then bend over the garden on weekends, for instance, may falsely blame their low-back pain on gardening.

We find many work-related injuries are due to repetitive motion. A worker performing the same motion for hours and days at a time may be placing undue stress on the affected muscles and joints.

Armed with this knowledge, the worker may be able to adapt his or her workplace to ease the strain on the back and neck. He or she may request a different job assignment. Effective treatment begins with identifying and modifying the source of the problem.