Can your job lead to a herniated disk?

Workplace injuries are common, and if you work in a job that requires heavy labor or lifting, you could be at risk for a serious back injury.

One common injury you could sustain at work is a herniated spinal disk. When a herniated disc develops, the soft, jellylike center of a spinal disk slips through a tear in the tougher disk’s exterior membrane.  This bulging material can then “impinge” or compress a nerve or nerve root that comes off the spine.  This can result in both back pain and in radiating pain along the downstream path of that compressed nerve.


In many cases, it is difficult to determine the exact moment a herniated disk developed. However, herniated disks often occur when you use your back muscles instead of your leg muscles to move or lift heavy objects. Twisting and turning when you lift heavy objects can also lead to this injury.  Many people report feeling a “pop” and a sharp back pain followed by pain or numbness in the nerve distribution when a disk ruptures or herniates.

You are at a greater risk of suffering a herniated disk if you have a physically demanding job. Bending sideways, twisting, pushing, pulling and repetitive lifting during your workday enhance your likelihood of sustaining a herniated disk.


Typically, herniated disks develop in the lower back or “lumbar spine” but herniated disks can also occur in the neck, or “cervical spine.”  Although symptoms of this back problem depend on the location of the herniated disk, it will usually only affect one side of your body.

Common symptoms include ongoing arm and leg pain and numbness and tingling in the area affected by the herniated disk. You may also experience weakness in the muscles served by the nerves impacted by the herniated disk. These symptoms can worsen over time to the point that they may it difficult to complete normal workday activities.

In some cases, herniated disk surgery may be required. Unfortunately, surgery does not always resolve the issue. Even when it does resolve the issue, it can take a month or more to recover and returning to the same line of work may not be an option.

In North Carolina, an injury to the back or neck can be covered in workers’ compensation even without the usual requirement of an “injury by accident” that applies to injuries to most of the body.  If you injure your spine in a “specific traumatic incident of the work assigned” then you can be covered.  An “STI” can be something as simple as picking up a heavy box.  If your normal job duties require you to lift heavy boxes, then getting hurt while you pick one up is NOT an “injury by accident” and would result in denial of a claim for injured shoulder or leg.  But it can be a specific traumatic incident, and your back or neck injury (or hernia) can be covered under that theory of injury.

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