Every year, more than 600,000 workers across the country are sidelined by back injuries. Caused by overextending, heavy lifting, excessive sitting or standing, falls, and work-related car accidents, back injuries can be debilitating. Men and women who have lower back pain resulting from work-related activities or accidents are often entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
Prompt medical care is always your first priority after any work injury. If you are hoping to get workers’ compensation for back pain, it is crucial to report the injury to your employer as soon as you are aware that it is work-related. Some back disorders develop over time due to lifting or other repetitive tasks. When filing your injury report, you should always be as detailed as possible. Describe everything you can remember about the circumstances surrounding your accident or condition. Details you may not believe to be relevant may be essential to your claim.
If your injuries require hospitalization, file your injury report as soon as you are stable. Any delay in notifying your employer leaves the door open for them to argue that your injuries are not work-related and deny your claim.
Choosing the right attorney is the next important step in getting workers’ compensation for back pain. A work injury lawyer can help ensure you are fully compliant with workers’ compensation filing guidelines to protect your rights and increase your chances of a successful claim. If your claim has already been denied, a lawyer will advocate for you throughout the appeal process to help you receive the benefits you deserve.
How Much Can I Expect to Receive in Compensation for a Back Injury?
All workers’ compensation cases are unique. The amount of your compensation will depend upon the severity of your injury, the cost of your medical bills, and the length of time you must miss work. Calculation of benefits for lost wages is straightforward in Pennsylvania, with most workers receiving approximately two-thirds of their previous salary if their disability is temporary.
However, receiving a settlement is not guaranteed, as your employer or your employer’s insurance company may attempt to deny your claim. According to one survey, a significant number of workers’ compensation claims for back injuries are initially denied. Insurance companies often cite pre-existing conditions as the reason for denying benefits. Other reasons include workers missing filing deadlines or their inability to prove that the injury happened on-site. Many times, insurance companies will fight claims, hoping that workers will just give up and stop trying.
Am I Required to Get a Lawyer Before Filing for Workers’ Compensation?
Technically, you do not need a lawyer to receive workers’ compensation benefits in Pennsylvania. However, guidance provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry notes that if you choose to represent yourself in workers’ compensation proceedings, you should be aware that litigation is complex and your employer’s insurance company will be represented by an experienced attorney. In other words, you may be at a significant disadvantage if you do not seek professional legal counsel.
Types of Work-Related Back Injuries
Back pain can be symptomatic of a wide range of conditions involving bones, ligaments, or muscles in the back. It can be acute, coming on quickly and gradually lessening over time. Alternatively, back pain may be chronic, becoming a persistent, permanent part of your everyday life. Lower back pain can be the result of a single action, such as improper bending or lifting, or it can be caused by repetitive behaviors, such as sitting or standing for hours at a time.
Some of the most common job-related back injuries include:
- Fractured vertebrae
- Herniated or slipped discs
- Lower back strain
- Pinched nerves
- Spinal cord damage
Employees who engage in lifting and moving materials are at risk for back injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses, laborers, and materials handlers are most likely to suffer work-related back injuries.
Workers’ Compensation and Pre-Existing Conditions
Insurance companies often attempt to deny workers’ compensation by asserting that the back pain is due to pre-existing conditions. Some of the pre-existing conditions that may cause or aggravate back pain include:
- Congenital defects of the spine
- Lack of exercise
In particular, coughing due to smoking can cause back pain; spinal disc degeneration may be accelerated because smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine. Job dissatisfaction has also been associated with back pain in some studies. It may be difficult to prove that back disorders are work-related. Some conditions develop gradually over time as repetitive tasks induce microtrauma to the back. A thorough medical examination by a licensed physician can help determine whether working conditions contributed to turning a mild pre-existing condition into a serious a back problem requiring time off from work.
Diagnosing and Treating Lower Back Pain
Workers who suffer a sudden back injury should seek immediate medical treatment. Because lower back pain often indicates a more serious underlying condition, you should never assume it will just go away on its own. For many injured workers, continuing to work only aggravates an already serious condition. Your health care provider may conduct a physical exam as well as order various diagnostic and imaging tests. Treatment for lower back pain may involve the following:
- Heat and cold therapy
- Medication to reduce pain and inflammation
- Complementary therapies, such as massage and chiropractic care
Most lower back injuries also require some downtime to rest and recover, preventing workers from returning to work immediately after an injury.
What Doctors are Approved to Treat Back Injuries Under Workers’ Compensation Rules?
The state of Pennsylvania gives employers the right to create a list of designated health providers approved to treat workers who are filing for workers’ compensation. If your employer posted a written list of approved health care providers, you must seek your initial treatment from a provider on the list unless one of the following is true:
- None of the health care providers on the list is within a reasonable geographic distance
- Your employer failed to provide a written notice explaining your rights and duties regarding the designated health care providers
- Your injury requires treatment by a specialist and that specialty is not on the list
Typically, patients with back injuries will visit a chiropractor or general practitioner first. If the medical condition warrants, a patient may be referred to a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. If your back condition requires treatment by a specialist and your employer’s list of designated health care providers does not include this type of specialist, you may then choose your own doctor.
The Financial Cost of Back Injuries
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), work-related back injuries rarely result in fatalities. However, they do cause pain and suffering, loss of productivity, and economic burdens for workers and employers. More than 600,000 workers suffer from back disorders. The estimated cost of medical treatment, lost wages, and decreased productivity associated with back injuries amounts to almost $50 billion annually. As the cost of health care escalates and the average age of the work force increases, the economic impact of back injuries is expected to grow.
What Workers Can Do to Prevent Back Injuries
No one wants to endure back pain. While it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of getting injured, workers can take steps to minimize the possibility of back problems, regardless of their occupation. These steps include the following:
- Eat healthy food. Calcium and vitamin D hep prevent osteoporosis, which increases the risk of bone fractures.
- Strengthening your back muscles can decrease your risk of falling. A combination of swimming, walking, and weight-bearing exercise can increase your balance and strength.
- Do not smoke. Smoking reduces circulation, and circulation promotes healing.
- Pay attention to your posture. Do not slouch while sitting or standing.
- Learn how to lift properly. Never twist while lifting.
- Try not to sit for long periods of time. Change your position as often as possible.
- Wear the right shoes. High-heels or worn-out shoes can trigger back pain, particularly if you are on your feet a lot.
Be on the lookout for outside of work that may induce or aggravate back pain. If you injure your back, seek medical attention and follow all guidance provided.
Employers Bear Responsibility for Minimizing Work-Related Back Injuries
Employers are obligated by law to maintain safe working conditions. There are several steps that employers can take to reduce the risk of work-related back injuries, including the following:
- Interview employees. Walk around the plant or building and ask employees if they are experiencing back pain.
- Observe workers. Record workers lifting objects or moving materials. Evaluate the frequency, duration, and difficulty of tasks.
- Modify lifting tasks that pose risks to workers.
Material handling tasks should be closely examined to minimize the amount of weight lifted, as well as the range of motion used and the frequency of the task. In general, the object being lifted should be close to the worker’s body. Adjusting the height of a shelf or pallet may be all that is needed to make the task less risky. All heavy objects should be stored at waist level. For very heavy objects, lift tables and lift-assist devices should be provided.
Conveyor belts or carts should be used when possible to move items horizontally. If workers are on an assembly line, conveyor belts should be at waist-level. Planning the workflow can reduce or eliminated repeated handling of the same object. This can minimize the risk of injury while improving productivity at the same time.
The Role of Safety Training
Safety training is key to helping manual laborers, materials handlers, and plant workers avoid back injuries. Components of comprehensive safety training include but are not limited to the following:
- Explaining the general principles of ergonomics
- Identifying hazards
- Reporting injuries and near misses
- Offering recommendations for improving strength and fitness
In situations where it is impossible to eliminate tasks with a high risk of back injury, employers should rotate workers, provide adequate breaks, or institute two-person lifting. For jobs that required standing for long periods of time, employers can provide footrests and resilient floor mats. Height-adjustable chairs can help reduce back pain for workers who must sit to perform their jobs. The pace of work should also be considered. When employees are under pressure to execute tasks quickly, muscles tighten and become more prone to injury.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Protect the Rights of Workers Suffering Back Injuries
If you are enduring a painful back disorder or injury that is work-related, you may be eligible for financial compensation, even if your condition developed over time. To discuss your potential claim, contact the Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorneys at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We have more than 40 years of experience fighting for Pennsylvania’s workers. Call us at 888-PITT-LAW or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Located in Philadelphia, Bensalem, Lansdowne, and Reading, we represent injured workers in Berks County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County and throughout Pennsylvania, including those in the communities of Abington, Ambler, Ardmore, Bala Cynwyd, Bensalem, Clifton Heights, Crum Lynne, Darby, Downingtown, Doylestown, Drexel Hill, Essington, Folcroft, Glenolden, Haverford, Havertown, Holmes, Kutztown, Lansdowne, Media, Merion Station, Morton, Narberth, Norristown, Norwood, Philadelphia, Prospect Park, Quakertown, Reading, Roxborough, Sharon Hill, Upper Darby, West Chester, and Wynnewood.