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Work-Related Back Injuries


Michael I. Greenberg

, MD, Drexel University College of Medicine;

David Vearrier

, MD, MPH, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2022 | Modified Sep 2022

Work-related back injury (and pain that results) is a common cause of missed work days and loss of productivity in workers.

  • Work-related back injuries are usually due to falls while standing, falls from heights, or direct blunt trauma to the back and are related to certain tasks.

  • To diagnose work-related back injuries, doctors ask detailed questions about the person's past and current jobs and do a thorough physical examination and sometimes imaging tests.

  • Employers can take measures to help prevent these injuries.

  • Employers can change the way work is done, reduce the length of shifts, limit the amount of overtime, and/or schedule more breaks.

  • Whether personal protective equipment (PPE), such as braces, wrist splints, and back belts, can help is unclear.

Work-related back injuries are usually due to falls while standing, falls from heights, or direct blunt trauma to the back and are related to certain tasks. These tasks include

  • Operating motor vehicles

  • Heavy lifting

  • Repetitive lifting (heavy and light items)

  • Tasks that require reaching up with one or both arms (overhead work, such as drilling or finishing drywall)

  • Tasks that vibrate the whole body (such as driving a construction vehicle over rough terrain)

Other issues may contribute to work-related back pain. People may feel dissatisfied with their job or think their workload is too heavy. Their work may be tedious or monotonous or have demanding deadlines. They may feel that they have no input to decision-making.

Smoking and obesity may contribute to back pain whether it is work-related or not..

If people have had work-related back injury and pain, future back injury is more likely.

Employers may be concerned about malingering (conscious exaggeration of symptoms to obtain a benefit) in workers who claim compensation for work-related back injury and back pain.

Diagnosis of Work-Related Back Injuries

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Sometimes imaging tests

Doctors focus on the person's work history, including past work-related injuries. They ask about specific work tasks, including exactly what the person was doing when injured.

X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is done if the injury was caused by direct trauma (such as a direct, forceful blow to the back or a fall from a height) or if the examination detected possible problems, such as nerve damage or fractures.

Doctors often provide detailed notes about their findings when there are legal issues about compensation for a work-related back injury.

Prevention of Work-Related Back Injuries

The following are examples of strategies employers can use to reduce the risk of work-related back injury:

  • Employers can change the way materials and products are transported. For example, they can provide mechanical assist devices for lifting or carrying heavy loads. They can change to packages with handles or slotted hand holes or store packages in areas that are easier to reach.

  • Employers can reduce the length of shifts, limit the amount of overtime, and/or schedule more breaks.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as braces, wrist splints, and back belts, may help, but they may also make it harder for workers to do the task.

  • Employers can set up an ergonomic program to evaluate work spaces and reconfigure them to reduce the risk of injuries. Such a program can reduce the risk of problems caused by overusing muscles, having bad posture, and doing repetitive tasks. Ergonomics is also concerned with reducing vibration, controlling temperature, eliminating glare, and ensuring adequate lighting.

Treatment of Work-Related Back Injuries

  • Similar to that for any other back injury

  • Strategies to prevent further and future injury

Treatment of work-related back injury is similar to that for any other back injury Treatment Low back pain and neck pain are among the most common reasons for health care visits. The pain usually results from problems with the musculoskeletal system—most notably the spine, including... read more Treatment . Treatment depends on the type of injury—whether fractures Treatment A fracture is a crack or break in a bone. Most fractures result from force applied to a bone. Fractures usually result from injuries or overuse. The injured part hurts (especially when it is... read more Treatment , strains (muscles injuries), sprains (ligament injuries), Overview of Sprains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries Sprains are tears in ligaments (tissues that connect one bone to another). Other soft-tissue injuries include tears in muscles (strains) and tears (ruptures) in tendons (tissues that connect... read more Overview of Sprains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries a herniated disk Herniated Disk A herniated disk occurs when the tough covering of a disk in the spine tears or ruptures. The soft, jelly-like interior of the disk may then bulge out (herniate) through the covering. Aging... read more Herniated Disk , or a spinal cord injury Injuries of the Spinal Cord and Vertebrae A spinal cord injury is damage to the bundle of cells and nerves that carry incoming and outgoing messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Most spinal cord injuries result from motor... read more Injuries of the Spinal Cord and Vertebrae . For example, for many sprains and strains, rest for 1 to 3 days, followed soon after by mobilization, has the best results and the earliest return to work.

Pain is usually treated with acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Opioid pain relievers are usually used only if pain is severe.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Aphen, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Children's Pain Relief, Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
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