Discs in the spine are made of cartilage, flexible connective tissue with a tough outer shell. They sit between and stabilise the 24 vertebral bones in the back, acting as a cushion and allowing the spine to twist and bend. A slipped disc (also known as a prolapsed or herniated disc) occurs when these discs are subjected to intense pressure, causing them to rupture. The soft gel the discs contain then leaks out through the crack, and may press against the spinal cord and surrounding nerves, causing shooting pain and muscle spasms both in the back, and often in other areas of the body, such as the arms and legs, which receive messages from nerves in the spine. Spinal discs may rupture in the neck and upper back, though the vast majority of slipped disc injuries affect the lumbar region of the lower back.
Slipped disc injuries normally require 6-8 weeks to heal fully, though in around 10% of cases problems endure for over 6 months. Back injuries can recur and escalate in severity. A person may develop a permanent degenerative back condition in the long-term, such as arthritis or scoliosis, where the natural curvature of the spine becomes deformed. Most slipped disc injuries at work are caused by heavy or repetitive lifting, and back problems can become chronic if a person continues to carry out the same physical tasks that caused their original injury after returning to work. Twice as many men suffer slipped discs at work than women, though certain professions such as nursing have a particularly high incidence rate of slipped disc injuries among female workers.
Manual handling, including lifting, pulling and pushing tasks, cause the majority of slipped disc injuries at work, as well as repetitive movements, including twisting, bending and stretching, which can progressively weaken discs in the spine. Injuries often occur when workers are operating in confined spaces, where they are forced to adopt unnatural postures when lifting and handling weights. Workers may slip, trip and fall in the workplace, or may fall from height. Sudden physical trauma, such as a heavy or awkward landing from a fall, may cause a disc to crack. Alternatively the condition of the back may deteriorate over time due to working conditions, leading to cumulative wear-and-tear and a greater likelihood of a disc in the back rupturing. Road traffic accidents also regularly cause slipped disc injuries, as the spine is often wrenched during an impact, known as whiplash.
The vast majority of work related slipped disc injuries affect those working in physically demanding professions, and many are the result of employers failing to follow the detailed legislation that governs lifting weight by hand in the workplace. There are strict limits imposed on the amount of weight a worker should be expected to lift and carry during a shift, and where possible mechanised lifting equipment should be employed as an alternative to lifting by hand. Both working practices and individual manual handling tasks must be comprehensively risk assessed to protect workers from the risk of injury. Training in safe lifting techniques must also be provided by the employer, and work should be effectively supervised to ensure employees take sufficient breaks from physically demanding or repetitive tasks.
Harry Marldon says that workers can claim compensation slipped disc if the injury was caused by their work roles. Specialist personal injury solicitors are able to inform clients how much compensation is available for a slipped disc at work.
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