Are bulging discs work-related?

Bulging discs are a common type of work-related injury. To receive workers’ compensation benefits, the worker must establish that a single event (workplace accident) caused the bulging disc or it developed over a period of time from repetitive work-related tasks. 

Symptoms That May Indicate a Worker Has a Bulging Disc

This condition (also referred to as a herniated disc) happens when a spongy disc located between vertebrae is damaged. It may break open or bulge out, putting pressure on nerves in the spinal cord.

If the bulging disc is in one of the two most common areas – the lower back or neck – then the pain might spread to the:

  • buttocks (lower back);
  • hips (lower back);
  • legs (lower back);
  • shoulders (neck); or
  • arms (neck).

The most common symptom is pain, which can spread to other parts of the body. Weakness and numbness sometimes accompany the pain.

It oftentimes starts as discomfort but worsens with time and when performing certain tasks such as:

  • lifting;
  • bending;
  • walking;
  • extended sitting;
  • standing; or
  • it may get worse at night.

Causes of a Bulging Disc and How It Can Impact a Workers’ Comp Claim 

A back injury such as this can occur in an accident at work. An example would be a worker who falls after losing his footing on a ladder or slipping on something on the floor.

But it can also occur from performing repetitive tasks, especially when not done correctly. For instance, someone whose job tasks include lots of lifting (such as a mover or a warehouse worker) may develop a herniated disc. The constant stress placed on the back, particularly when the person doesn’t use proper lifting techniques, can cause the injury.

Age can be a contributing factor. Middle-aged and older men are prone to this type of back injury. Keep in mind that whether age is an issue or not, the bulging disc must have occurred during one’s scope of employment because of events at work or while performing work tasks. If the person wasn’t involved in a workplace accident or doesn’t perform job tasks that would cause it to occur, it may not be linked to work.

If the injury happened in an accident, a notice of injury to the employer or a supervisor would help substantiate this claim. If it was caused by repetitive job tasks, a doctor’s diagnosis and notes confirming it was linked to those tasks can be helpful.

Steps to Take When Seeking Workers’ Compensation for a Bulging Disc

It’s important to get evaluated as soon as possible. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the next step would be to inform the employer and/or insurer. A claim for workers’ comp benefits would then be filed.

If approved, the employer’s workers’ comp insurer will pay benefits that may include lifetime medical costs related to the injury and disability benefits. If it results in permanent impairment, the worker may receive permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits of 80 percent of weekly spendable wages.

Back injuries are industrial (or ‘body as a whole’) injuries, so disability benefits are paid for a percentage of 500 weeks.

Body as a whole injuries hinge on a number of factors like:

  • impairment rating;
  • age; and
  • earning capacity.

In the event the insurer denies the claim, then the next step would be to seek legal advice and possibly appealing the insurer’s decision. Walker, Billingsley & Bair helps Des Moines workers filing workers’ comp claims and appealing denied claims. Call us at 888-435-9886 to schedule your appointment.

Corey Walker
With 19 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.