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Why are work-related back injuries so common?

A whopping 80% of people suffer a back injury at some point in their adult life. Even a relatively minor strain can cause severe pain. However, some back injuries can cause long-term disability.

Over a million workplace-related back injuries are reported every year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that they account for about 20% of all workplace injuries and illnesses annually. Back injuries account for more missed work than any condition except the common cold.

The vast majority, according to the BLS (80%) are lower back injuries. Three-fourths of those are suffered while lifting something. However, other movements (especially when they’re done repetitively) can cause back injuries. Twisting your body while lifting can be dangerous. So can bending forward. Even standing for a long time can cause a back injury.

Back injuries can cause musculoskeletal disorders like strained ligaments and muscles and ruptured discs. The people at greatest risk, according to the BLS, are nursing assistants. Health care professionals as a whole suffer 4.5 times more injuries caused by overexertion than any other workers.

Other people in other lines of work with the greatest percentage of back injuries include:

  • Stock and order fillers
  • Laborers and people who move freight or other materials
  • Repair/maintenance workers
  • Cleaning/janitorial workers

All of these professions came in ahead of truck drivers, which we often associate with heavy lifting (not to mention being in cramped quarters for hours on end).

As many as a third of these injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), may be preventable by changes to workplace design. However, these need to be made in consultation with people who know what they’re doing. For example, there’s been a big move toward standing desks to reduce the negative effects of sitting for too long. However, standing for even a couple of hours at a time can cause both short-term and long-term back problems.

If you’ve suffered a back injury at work, you may be tempted to write it off as part of the job or one more unpleasant aspect of getting older. However, it may be something that’s too serious to be treated with a heating pad and some Advil. It’s best to see a doctor so that if it is something more serious, you can get the proper treatment and, if necessary, seek workers’ compensation benefits.


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