Your back supports the entire weight of your upper body. It also gives you the flexibility to bend and twist.
When you injure your back, you might lose the ability to do anything, including sitting or lying down. You could miss substantial time from work and even require assistance to meet your daily needs.
Below, learn about the causes and effects of a back injury as well as the compensation you can seek for one.
What Are the Functions of Your Back?
Your spine runs along the center of your back. Twenty-four vertebrae make up your spine.
Doctors divide your back into three regions:
- The cervical spine includes the top seven vertebrae in your neck
- The thoracic spine includes the middle 12 vertebrae in your upper back
- The lumbar spine includes the bottom five vertebrae in your lower back
These small bones serve two seemingly contradictory functions.
The individual bones of your spine allow it to bend and twist in a way that would be impossible if the spine only had a single rigid bone. Discs sit between the vertebrae to cushion them and provide a smooth surface on which they can move.
Each vertebra has a solid body and wing-shaped protrusions called processes. When the bodies align, they form a rigid column that supports your weight.
What is the Structure of Your Back?
Your back includes several structures that help it perform all of your body’s functions. In addition to providing structure and flexibility, your spine also protects your spinal cord. Your spinal cord carries all of the nerves that connect your brain to your body.
You also have three other sets of bones in your back. Your shoulder blades provide an anchor point for many of the muscles in your back. They also anchor the muscles of your shoulders. This common anchor point allows you to use your back muscles when you lift or carry objects in your arms.
Your ribs protect your vital organs. The ribs fit into joints in your spine.
Your pelvis sits at the bottom of your back. Muscles tie your back to your hips to give you power while lifting with your legs as well as standing and walking.
The back muscles attach to these bones through tendons. Muscles and tendons link the spine to the shoulder blades, skull, and pelvis. Muscles also sit between the ribs.
The back muscles provide a range of motion, including:
Ligaments hold the vertebrae together. They also hold the ribs to the vertebrae. These ligaments provide strength and flexibility in these joints and hold the bones correctly.
What Causes Back Injuries?
Back injuries can result from many types of trauma, including:
Blunt Force Trauma
Blunt force trauma involves a force that strikes the back without penetrating the skin. You would suffer blunt force trauma to your back if you fell from an elevation in a workplace accident and landed on your back or side.
Penetrating trauma happens when an object strikes your back and pierces the skin. Examples of penetrating trauma include tearing your back open on your bicycle after a car hits you in a bicycle accident.
Hyperextension happens when a force stretches your back. This often happens when your body rapidly accelerates or decelerates.
For example, in a car accident, your body will bend at the instant of impact. This will cause your back to hyperextend. As you come to a stop, your back will compress. This hyperextension and compression can damage your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs. The force of the compression can also fracture your bones.
When your back experiences stress, small cracks or tears can form. Normally, the body will heal these minor injuries. But repeated stress over a short period can cause this damage to propagate faster than it can heal. This can lead to repetitive motion injuries like stress fractures.
What Are Some Examples of a Back Injury?
Back injuries can take many forms. Some injuries, like a strained muscle, might only pose an inconvenience. Other injuries, like a fractured vertebra, could kill or paralyze you.
Back Strain or Sprain
When trauma damages the soft tissue of your back, you will likely suffer back strain or sprain. Back strain happens when an injury stretches or tears the back muscles or tendons.
Back strain produces symptoms such as:
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle stiffness
Back sprains happen when trauma stretches or tears the ligaments in the back.
A sprained back causes symptoms like:
- Limited range of motion
Back strains and sprains usually heal without surgery. Instead, you will rest your back and apply ice packs. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.
The discs include two layers. A fibrous annulus covers a gel-like nucleus. When the discs get compressed, the annulus can weaken.
If the fibers of the annulus separate, the nucleus can protrude through it. This protrusion creates a herniated disc.
If the fibers remain intact, the annulus can bulge outward. This bulge creates a bulging disc.
In either case, the protrusion or bulge can press on nearby nerves. This can cause symptoms such as:
- Numbness or tingling
If the disc compresses a nerve root or the spinal cord, the symptoms may radiate to your arms or legs.
One of the most serious back injuries includes a fractured vertebra. When a vertebra fractures, the vertebra can dislocate or send bone fragments into the spinal canal. There, the bone can sever the spinal cord, causing permanent paralysis.
If you fracture a vertebra, EMTs will stabilize your back before moving you to reduce the risk of paralysis. Doctors will often try to keep anything from damaging the spinal cord by implanting plates or rods into your spine.
The fractured vertebra will heal in about eight weeks. But if the spinal cord gets damaged, you might permanently lose movement and sensation below the injury.
How Can You Receive Compensation for a Back Injury?
To recover compensation for a back injury, you must show that the at-fault party acted intentionally or negligently in injuring you. Negligence means that the at-fault party failed to exercise reasonable care and, in doing so, injured you.