Work-Related Trauma and Acute Injuries

Originally published on GilTepperMD.com

 

Following up from my previous blog, today we will discuss some of the more common injuries sustained at work, how to treat them, and tips for prevention. Hundreds of thousands of accidents occur within the workplace every year, the severeness of which can vary greatly. Aside from knowing one’s legal rights and the ability to receive compensation, it is important to have these injuries treated physically in addition to legally. Below are some of the most common accidents that occur within the walls of a workplace.

Back Injuries

Injuries and pain in the back are the most common workplace grievances, with 5-10% of those documented becoming chronic among patients. Whether working in an office setting or a construction site outdoors, nearly every employee is exposed to the risk of back injury. Poor posture or prolonged sitting can lead to poor muscle development, pinched nerves, and damaged discs within the spine.

Specific injuries to the back include muscle strains or sprains, and herniated discs. These affect over 1 million workers, which attributes to 20% of all workplace injuries and illnesses. Aside from effective employee training, the best way to prevent sustaining a back injury is to understand basic lifting, moving, and carrying procedures when working in an environment that requires all three. Back injuries can be extremely debilitating, and can even lead to weight gain and poor physical function due to loss of mobility.

Hernia

There are several types of hernias that one can endure, with some of the most common work-related being inguinal and hiatal. Inguinal hernias are when the intestines protrude through a weak spot or opening in the lower abdomen. Though it is more common in men than it is women, these can be caused by extremely heavy lifting, coughing, or old age, as the abdomen wall weakens over time. Hiatal hernias are when the stomach begins to extend up into the diaphragm. These typically come with age as well.

Hernias are generally easy to deal with in terms of pain, as a small bulge may appear around the affected area. Leaving it untreated does not necessarily increase one’s chances of worsening the injury, but depending on the severity of the symptoms, seeking treatment options would not be unwise. Should you feel “fullness” or pain upon lifting, consult a physician immediately. Surgery is sometimes required to treat these injuries. In less serious cases, the hernia can easily be pushed back into its proper position.

Arthritis

Arthritis is any rheumatic disease that affects joints, the surrounding tissue, and other connective tissue in the area. This is the most common disability in America, and can worsen within a workplace setting. Osteoarthritis specifically is more prevalent in workplaces, as this is associated with knee and/or hip pain. Outdoor professions like construction or agriculture typically put those at risk due to heavy lifting and constant movement in unnatural positions (kneeling or crawling).

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disorder defined as chronic inflammation in the joints of the hands and feet. Given the chronicfactor, this can make life difficult, especially within a workplace setting. Achy fingers or wrists can make typing challenging, as well as lifting anything at all. Work with a Rheumatologist to determine the best form of treatment for you, which can come in the form of medication, a change in diet, exercise, and physical therapy.

Early diagnosis is key in treating arthritis in order to prevent loss of mobility. Exercise and weight management programs are very helpful, but the consultation of a medical professional beforehand should never fall by the wayside.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Associated with the peripheral nervous system, carpal tunnel is the compression of the median nerve around the wrist. This is very common in individuals who type on a computer on a daily basis, or work with their hands in general. Symptoms range from numbness, to weakness, to muscular atrophy. Carpal tunnel is more common in women, though nearly everyone is at risk. Some contributing factors to this condition include pregnancy, pre existing wrist injuries, arthritis, diabetes, and family history.

In terms of treatment, the first step is avoiding any activity that can worsen your condition. Wearing a wrist splint, therapeutic stretching, or medications have been found to work best, but surgeries are not uncommon in order to relieve more extreme cases.

Sciatica

Many lower back injuries can lead to this debilitating condition, which is caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve; a set of five paired nerves located in the lumbar spine. The entire nerve runs the length of the pelvis all the way down to the foot, passing through the buttocks and hip. Sciatica is caused by spinal disorders that compress the nerve like a herniated disc, lumbar spinal stenosis, tumors, or trauma to that area, of which many workplace incidents can contribute to.

Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons on the shoulder that connect your upper humerus to the joint, keeping it firmly in place. An injury sustained to the rotator cuff is often caused by consistent overhead movements like reaching or lifting objects. This is especially common in painters, athletes, or individuals in construction. The injuries themselves can range from minor inflammation to complete tears of the tissue.

Some symptoms to look out for include a deep ache within the shoulder, pain upon lifting either arm, and arm weakness in general. While this typically treated through rest, depending on the severity of the injury, leaving it motionless for too long can actually have adverse effects. Consult your physician immediately if you experience a sudden loss of mobility following an injury. This may be a complete rotator cuff tear.

Prevention comes in the form of carefully strengthening these muscles through exercise and stretching. In addition to shoulder workouts, strengthening the chest and back muscles are just as important for support around the shoulder blade.

Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is the cushioning disc located within the knee meant to keep the joint steady and balance your weight accordingly, of which there are two. A tear of this disc can be very crippling. Any sudden twisting or turning while the foot is planted can lead to this, which is not uncommon in sports or manual labor careers. The menisci weaken with age as well; another factor worth noting.

A minor tear may result in simply swelling and slight pain, which can be treated with rest and applied heat. A moderate tear will limit your mobility a little bit more, but walking is still possible. As a result of this, swelling will be more severe and stiffness is often felt as well. Be sure to be much more cautious in this case. A severe tear can cause the knee to catch, or lock, preventing you from straightening it due to pieces of the torn meniscus being able to move throughout the joint.

The location of the tear plays a large role in determining treatment. Tears on the outer edge of the meniscus are typically able to heal on their own thanks to a large blood supply. All that is needed in this case is a brace or resting period. Tears located on the inner part of the meniscus need much more assistance with healing because of less blood flow.

Surgical repair may be required in some cases, such as to remove torn pieces floating about. A total meniscectomy is required in very extreme cases, which is the removal of the entire meniscus, though this is generally avoided due to the increased risk of osteoarthritis.

Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter for more, and be sure to stay tuned for more pieces on orthopedics and spinal health.

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