Work-related back pain is a common cause of worker absenteeism and loss of productivity.
The prevalence of back pain in workers is related to the specific job description and tasks being done. Work-related back injuries range from simple strains and sprains to herniated disks, fractures, neurologic problems, and other injuries. Work-related back pain is usually due to falls while standing, falls from heights, or direct blunt trauma to the back. Workers claiming compensation for on-the-job back injury often claim injuries involving low back strain, herniated disks, fractured vertebrae, pinched nerves, and spinal cord injury. Malingering may be a concern with regard to work-related back injury and back pain. Specific work activities, including operating motor vehicles, heavy lifting, repetitive lifting (both heavy and light items) overhead work, and whole-body vibration, have a higher risk of work-related back injury. Specific psychosocial issues may contribute to work-related back pain. These issues include job dissatisfaction, tedious or monotonous work, a perceived heavy workload, tasks with a demanding deadline and a perceived lack of input to decision-making.
Smoking and obesity are linked epidemiologically to non occupational back pain; both are common among workers and thus may also increase the risk of work-related back pain. A past history of work-related back injury and pain is an important predictor of future back injury.
Plain x-rays have a notoriously low yield when used to image work-related back injury. Imaging with CT or MRI is typically used for patients with neurologic deficits or findings suggesting fragility fracture. Encourage early mobilization after a strain or sprain involving the back for the best clinical results and most rapid return to work.