Treating Back Injuries and Returning to Work
One in five injuries and illnesses in the workplace are back injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Eighty percent of these injuries are lower back injuries and are associated with manual materials handling tasks. Preventing back injuries is a major challenge for workplace safety. Further, a quarter of all compensation indemnity claims involve back injuries, costing the industry billions of dollars on top of the pain of employees.
Common causes of back injuries
Most back and neck injuries occur due to excess force or strain to the spine while performing physical labor and material handling. However, injuries can also occur with minimal physical strain due to poor posture or faulty body mechanics while performing even the lightest activity. For example, some injuries occur while a person is bending to pick up an item, such as a piece of paper. Many people report sustaining an injury after experiencing a slip or fall and trying to “catch” themselves. Holding the same position for a long time can also be a contributing factor to neck and low back pain. Regardless of how the injury occurs, everyone plays a role in recovering from injury and returning to work or employment.
The role of the employer
Although there are no specific regulations regarding material handling and workplace safety, there are common guidelines and recommendations put forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Recommendations for providing education to employees regarding physical demands and job expectations are common. Providing engineering to reduce physical stressors, putting weight limits on material handling, and providing wellness programs for employees are also common recommendations. Companies whose employees are expected to handle heavy objects may provide mechanical assistive devices such as forklifts, chain lifts, or pallet jacks to support managing these heavy loads. Some companies utilize a workplace “safety “director who collaborates with the Human Resources department to develop and implement plans to optimize safety and minimize injury risk to the best of their ability.
The role of the employee
Employees are also responsible for workplace safety and for recovery if an injury occurs. Understanding the job description and expectations and being aware of the surrounding environment allows a person to better prepare for and safely perform work-related duties. In the event of injury, it is important to communicate promptly with the employer when and how the injury occurred. The employee is also responsible for compliance with prescribed actions to help with injury recovery. Above all, the employee needs to understand the value of conditioning to meet the demands of their job. Similar to a professional athlete, the employee should be dedicated to keeping their body in shape to meet the demands of their job. Important components of a good program include cardiovascular activity such as walking, running, or cycling, flexibility or stretching, strengthening, and balance activities.
We’re Here for You
Ivy Rehab provides services to assist both injured workers and employers. A thorough evaluation, appropriate exercise prescription, manual therapies, and education are the core of proper treatment after an injury occurs. Ivy Rehab can also work with individuals to develop the optimal preventative exercise program. Additionally, physical or occupational therapists can design a program specifically with a return-to-work focus and may recommend a work conditioning program. Industrial services for the employer include post-offer employment testing (POET), pre-work screenings and fit-for-duty testing, job site and job demand analysis, and industrial ergonomic assessment. These services can provide the employer with information and education to minimize injury risk and provide an environment that supports productivity with minimal loss of employee time related to an injury. Click here to view all of the workers’ compensation programs available at Ivy Rehab.
Article By: Paul Heim, PT, FCE evaluator, Industrial Ergonomic assessment provider.
Paul began his Physical Therapy career 40 years ago. Paul enjoys working with the industrial population and believes in the importance of providing evidence-based practice and compassion. He currently specializes in outpatient orthopedics and industrial medicine and currently sees patients at Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy in New Jersey.
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