How to Protect Your Neck at Work
We all know what it means to have a pain in the neck (both the literal kind and the figurative).
But do we really understand how neck injuries happen, or the role our day-to-day jobs might play in bringing about that pain?
Well, let me ask you: what do you think usually causes a serious neck injury?
Most people might guess an auto accident, a terrible fall, or even daredevil horseplay. We’ve all seen sitcom episodes where some grade-A klutz ends up in an elaborate neck brace because of their own buffoonery.
But most neck injuries don’t arise out of anything quite so catastrophic or clumsy. In fact, the overwhelming majority of neck injuries in the United States are caused by job-related activities (such as heavy lifting) or everyday workplace accidents (such as a slip, trip, or fall).
While these on-the-job neck accidents might be common, they can still be extremely serious — downright debilitating, even. And when employees suffer such an accident or injury in the course of their work duties, they may be entitled to worker’s compensation for their damages.
It happens more often than you might think.
So how do so many American employees end up with neck injuries? What can you do in your own job to protect your neck? And how do you know whether you’re eligible to receive workers’ comp?
As it turns out, there’s a lot to know about the neck.
The Most Common Causes of Workplace Neck Injuries
In my law practice, I’ve helped employees with a wide range of neck injuries, some of which came about without the worker even realizing it at first. Of course, some accidents happen more suddenly than others.
Common causes of work-related neck injuries include:
- Frequent or heavy lifting (especially in excess of 20 pounds)
- Repetitive motion
- Slip and fall
- Trip and fall
- Falling objects (including tools and machinery)
- Poor posture (perhaps due to poor working conditions)
- Job-related auto accidents
This isn’t a comprehensive list. Neck injuries can come about in all sorts of ways, perhaps when you least expect them.
Symptoms of a Neck Injury
The neck is a complex part of the human body. If you were to peer beneath the skin, you would find a sophisticated network of bone, muscle, ligament, nerves, arteries, veins, and tissue.
A neck injury can cause symptoms within the neck itself or, sometimes, in other parts of the body.
While each person’s symptoms will be unique, common signs of a potential work-related neck injury include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Neck pain
- Reduced range of motion (e.g. difficulty turning your head or bending your neck)
- Numbness or tingling
- Pain in the head, shoulders, arms, legs, or back
Some of these symptoms — especially neck stiffness or new, sudden, or severe headaches — may be the sign of a life-threatening emergency, so please never hesitate to seek urgent medical attention.
How to Prevent a Pain in the Neck
Even the little things can make a difference. For example, stretching and taking work breaks can go a long way in preventing overuse.
You might also consider using ergonomic chairs, keyboards, desks, and other equipment, which can reduce harmful strain on your neck and the surrounding body structures.
Many employers offer ergonomic solutions for employees who are at risk of a neck injury or other soft tissue damage. In fact, there’s a lot that employers could (and should) do to spare their workers the pain and debilitation of a neck injury.
From investing in the right equipment and creating proper workplace policies to ensuring that the jobsite is free from hazards (and that employees are properly trained), employers generally have a duty to maintain a safe environment for their workers.
When Does a Neck Injury Qualify for Worker’s Compensation?
The rules of eligibility for worker’s compensation vary significantly from one state to the next, so the answer to this question will depend on the nature of your injury and where you live.
For example, in Virginia (where I practice law), most repetitive motion injuries are not eligible for worker’s compensation, with the exception of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But some other states do recognize many of these injuries.In Virginia, it needs to be a specific immediate event that caused the neck injury.
A good rule of thumb for determining whether your neck injury qualifies for workers’ compensation is to ask yourself whether your injury was caused (or made worse) by your job duties, or whether it happened in the course of your job duties (such as an auto accident that happens while picking up supplies for your boss).
Of course, you should never come to any conclusions about your legal rights without first talking to an experienced workers’ comp attorney in your state. He or she can help you understand whether you’re eligible and where to go from here. I also recommend reading my guide to reporting your work injury correctly — something you’ll want to do right away.
Remember: a “pain in the neck” can be much more than the mere annoyance that phrase sometimes describes. Indeed, it can be a very serious medical condition with real consequences in the long term, so don’t ignore it. Take action right away.
Michele Lewane is a seasoned courtroom litigator with more than 25 years of experience as a worker’s compensation lawyer in Virginia. Managing attorney of the Injured Workers Law Firm in Richmond, VA, she has a long track record of getting injured employees the full and fair compensation they deserve.