The most common on the job injury in Arizona is injury to the low back. The great majority of these are classified as sprain/strain, which generally resolve within a few days up to 6 weeks. More serious back injuries include injuries to the discs and vertebrae of the lumbar spine. A very common mechanism of injury is where a worker is lifting an object and twisting at the same time, placing increased mechanical stresses on the lumbar discs. Many doctors compare the intervertebral discs to a jelly donut – with the nucleus of the disc being the jelly material. If an increased stress is placed on the disc, this disc material can “herniate” and place pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots which provide strength and sensation to the legs.
Other injuries to the lumbar spine can occur during a fall from a height, which can cause the vertebrae to either fracture or compress. Treatment for low back injuries can include physical therapy, injections (epidural, facet, or radiofrequency ablation) and surgery.
Surgery can consist of minimally invasive discectomy up to a fusion of two or more vertebrae to provide stability of a motion segment. Treatment of low back injuries usually starts with a Physical Medicine Specialist (Physiatrist) who then makes a referral to an orthopedic spine surgeon or neurosurgeon if surgery is indicated. Permanent low back injuries are considered “unscheduled” for purposes of Arizona Workers Compensation law. Low back injuries often result in permanent work restrictions against heavy lifting, prolonged sitting, standing, or walking, or repetitive bending.