What to do after a work-related injury

DR. Virginia Nsitem

By Virginia Nsitem

Low back injuries at work are common and often lead to missed time on the job and an inability to perform  regular activities, including house work, sports, and recreation.

The low back is made up of five spinal bones, called vertebra. The bones are separated by spongy shock absorbers called discs. The spinal bones are connected to one another by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The low back provides flexibility and strength to the body, helps support the upper body weight, and allows us to stand upright.

Back injuries at work often occur when lifting a heavy item, bending and twisting the back, performing repetitive tasks, or maintaining a poor posture for a long period of time. These injuries can take place in any work setting, including a factory, office, hospital, or retail store. When lifting something heavy,  you may hear or feel a “snap” in your back. It is not uncommon to injure other parts of the body at the same time as the back injury. For example, some people may also experience shoulder or knee pain as a result of improper lifting. 

When we twist the wrong way, bend without using our knees, engage in repetitive activities, or lift a heavy load, we may cause injury to the muscles in the low back. This type of injury is called a low back muscle strain, or a “pulled muscle” in the low back. In essence, there is over-stretching and tearing of the muscle fibres in the low back, leading to inflammation, pain, and decreased movement and function.

Once you suffer an injury at work, it is important to report it immediately to your supervisor, and make note of any co-workers  who may have observed the incident. The next important step is to visit your doctor or chiropractor for an evaluation.

Typical symptoms that you may experience following a low back injury at work include:

  • Back pain described as sharp
  • Difficulty standing with a straight posture
  • Difficulty and pain with walking and bending
  • Pain worse with coughing or sneezing
  • Pain alleviated with ice and over-the-counter pain medication

Your chiropractor or doctor may find that you have:

  • Difficulty standing straight
  • A posture that looks “twisted” and bent forward
  • Difficulty moving quickly
  • Muscles in the low back that are tight, tender, and in spasm
  • Swelling in the low back region

Prior to giving you a diagnosis, your chiropractor or physician may order x-rays or other tests to rule out other causes of your pain. For work-related injuries, your chiropractor or physician will complete specific forms that describe your injury and the treatments that you will require, and send these forms to WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB ).  Once approved, treatments for the low back injury are fully paid by the WSIB (which is good news for patients). Treatments can often last for three to four months. During this time, your chiropractor or physician may advise you to take time off work or return to work with modified duties.

Your rehabilitation program may include:

  • Chiropractic manual treatments to improve flexibility, balance, and strength of the spine, and restore proper movement to the muscles and joints of the spine. Laser therapy was used to help reduce the pain associated with the muscle spasms and inflammation.
  • Rehab Program. It is important to practice specific exercises to strengthen the abdominal, pelvic, and back muscles and increase the flexibility of these structures. These exercises are usually performed during the treatments and at home.
  • Posture and Ergonomics. Education on proper lifting and bending techniques is important to reduce the risk of re-injury.

          Stop the Pain … Before the Pain Stops You!

Dr.Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for spine, muscle, joint, and nerve injuries, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at totalhealth@bellnet.ca