Work Related Back Injuries
In our practice, one of the most common injuries resulting from work related accidents that we see are back injuries. When a worker has a back injury while working, it is possible for that worker to obtain wage loss and medical treatment for the injury. Back injuries are compensated as a general disability under sections 65.2-500 and 65.2-502 of the Virginia Code. This is in contrast to a “scheduled loss” under section 65.2-503. There is a significant difference. While back (and neck) injuries can result in significant compensation, they typically do not result in permanent total or permanent partial awards. However, in many cases, back injuries are very expensive to treat.
A back condition that existed before a workplace accident, such as spinal stenosis, is covered under Virginia Workers Compensation law where it is “materially aggravated” by a compensable accident.
What is a back injury?
Back injuries can arise from specific accidents and trauma or as a result of damage and wear and tear of the course of time. Some experts estimate that 80-90% of the general population will experience some kind of back pain at some point in their life. The most common back injuries include:
- Herniated Discs
- Fractured vertebrae
What causes back injuries?
Many back injuries are caused “acutely” which means that they happened at a specific time and specific place as a result of a specific movement. Typically, these are the kind of back injuries that are covered under the Virginia Workers Compensation laws. Other back conditions arise because of “overuse” or working too much. Typically, these kinds of back injuries are not covered by Virginia Workers Compensation laws. Herniated discs, one of the most frequent types of work injuries, very often occur because of specific trauma such as a fall, lifting of a heavy box or car accident. Vertebral fractures are most often caused by trauma that is directly to the spine in a particular part of the spine.
How is a back injury diagnosed?
As with many medical conditions, a back injury diagnosis starts with a physical examination by a physician or other medical professional. Typically, part of this examination will include the medical professional gathering information about any prior conditions, when the pain started and what the patient was doing when the pain started. Also, the medical professional will typically try to understand the type of pain that the patient is experiencing. The difference between dull and sharp pain, pain in the middle of the back and lower back and other factors can lead to different diagnoses. After an initial diagnosis is made, many times the physician will have the injured person have an X-ray, CT Scan or MRI to confirm the results and to rule out other medical conditions. X-rays give the medical provider a picture of the spine and are often used when a fracture is suspected. CT Scans offer a better picture of the spine and the anatomy around the spine that, in some cases, do not show up on a simple X-Ray. Finally, an MRI is often obtained when an X-Ray and/or CT Scan do not offer adequate insight into the injury to make a definitive diagnosis. An MRI is typically understood as the best way to get the best view of an injured spine. MRI's are not necessary in every case of back pain, but are very helpful when back pain is otherwise unexplained.
How is a back injury treated?
There exists a wide range of treatments for back injuries. Treatment for back injuries depends on the actual diagnosis. In addition, doctors will evaluated the type and extent of pain and symptoms and loss of function being experienced by the injured worker to chart a course for treatment. Treatment is often considered “conservative” or “non-conservative treatment”
- Hot and Cold therapy is often used in cases where inflammation, routine pain and spasms are noted.
- Medication: For mild to moderate pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed. In most cases, these types of conservative medications are offered for mild pain that persists rather than acute pain that is severe. If pain is simply not tolerable by the injured worker, muscle relaxers and/or stronger medications are of prescribed.
- Physical Therapy -- In many back injury cases, medical providers suggest continuing to move, rather than bed rest. To facilitate movements and exercises that are safe and goal oriented, physical therapy is often prescribed for several days per week of the course of a few weeks.
- Injections -- A variety of injections are also available for back injuries:
- Spinal Nerve Blocks
- Steroid injections
Since conservative treatment does not relieve all back pain, many workers with back injuries ultimately undergo surgery. If symptoms persist after reasonable attempts at conservative care and if diagnostic testing reveals a reason to have surgery, many injured workers opt for back surgery. There are several types of back surgery. One of the more common forms of back surgery is a discectomy. This is a very common procedure. When a back injury causes pain into the legs (radiating pain) a discectomy is often recommended to fix the herniated disc causing the pain. The surgery is designed to remove the part of the disc that is “protruding”. Fusion surgery and disc replacement surgery are other surgical alternatives. A spinal fusion is a surgery that seeks to connect two of your vertebrae. This is a very serious surgery. In many fusions, metal plates, screws and rods are used to hold the vertebrae together. The idea is that that the hardware will hold the vertebrae together to promote healing.
Call our firm if you need help!
If you have back pain and need medical treatment because of a work-related injury, it is important to understand the legal requirements for proving the type of injury that you have, that it was caused by your injury and proving the type of medical treatment that is necessary to help you recover. We have handled many back injury cases before the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission. We are here to help! Do not hesitate to contact our law office for a free consultation to discuss your accident and injury.