Lower back pain: The leading cause of disability

The back and spine are very complex and an injury or damage to a bone, muscle, nerve or ligament can cause lasting pain. While there a number of imaging technologies that can provide detailed images, the underlying cause of back pain often remain unknown.

A recent study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found that lower back pain is the leading cause of job disability around the world.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also tracks the number of workplace injuries and illnesses. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, there were almost three million recordable cases. About a third of the cases involved days away from work. There were 177,580 reported cases that involved back injuries.

Any workplace injury that results in a back injury should be reported to the employer. Workers' compensation benefits are often available to cover treatment and lost wages.

Occupations with the highest risks

Jobs involving lifting, twisting and bending put workers at the greatest risk. Another risk comes from whole-body vibration, which puts long haul truck drivers at a higher risk for lower back pain.

Back injuries are also common in office environments. Those who work in office settings should make sure that their chairs, desks and equipment provide back support and promote good posture.

Types of back pain and treatment

Back pain is generally characterized as acute, subacute or chronic. The most common type is acute back pain that develops all of a sudden and may last up to several weeks. An injury while pushing or lifting something may lead to acute pain. Subacute pain usually lasts up to three months. Chronic back pain on the other hand begins gradually over time and usually lasts much longer than three months.

As more people struggle to cope with chronic back pain, effective treatments remains elusive. Pain killers, the application of heat or ice and some exercises can be helpful. But with stronger opioid pain medications there are concerns regarding addiction especially when a condition is chronic. Some find relief through acupuncture.

Following a serious back injury, surgery may be required. A diskectomy, for example, allows a surgeon to remove injured or diseased disk tissue and can relieve pressure on the spine. Spinal fusion is another surgery used to treat fractures to the spine or a weak or unstable spine by preventing movement in a specific area.

If you have suffered a workplace back injury, contact a workers' compensation attorney. The work comp system provides a safety net. Do not take sick days to recover or minimize the symptoms, because if the injury is worse than initially believed it could be more difficult to bring a claim.