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Neck Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Accidents

Many workers in North Carolina and Virginia perform jobs that result in cervical spine or neck injuries. While some neck injuries can be treated and resolved quickly, many employees need to undergo surgery and may live with chronic long-term neck pain. Even when the pain subsides enough for the worker to return to work, many workers need continued medical care so that the neck pain doesn’t worsen, or if they have surgery, to medically monitor their condition over time.

Some of the common causes of neck pain in workers include:

  • Car accidents especially rear-end accidents that can cause severe whiplash
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Working in a job such as a truck driver where the focus is in one direction for hours at a time
  • Computer work especially where even a slight adjustment in the angle or position of the neck can cause stress on the neck
  • Heavy lifting
  • A pinched nerve
  • A damaged spine
  • An accident that causes a fracture of one of the bones that support the neck
  • Repetitive stress injuries
  • Herniated or bulging discs in the neck

Neck injuries can occur at a desk job, at a job where a worker stands all day, and even at remote jobs where the worker rarely comes into a work site. Many times, the symptoms of a neck injury don’t occur immediately after an accident. That’s why whenever you have any type of accident it’s always good practice to be seen by an emergency room doctor or your family doctor.

That being said, it needs to be clear that a neck injury that occurs as a result of repetitive stress over time is not compensable under the law in either Virginia or North Carolina Workers Compensation Cases. You must show an “injury by accident,” which means your injury occurred at a very specific point in time and resulted from an activity you were performing at work. In Virginia, there may be some exceptions if the injury occurred over a very defined, relatively short, defined period of time, as in a few hours, but those exceptions are not so easy to prove.

What are the symptoms of neck pain?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the signs and symptoms of neck pain include:

  • A persistent ache
  • A shooting pain that goes from the neck to the shoulders or arms
  • A burning or stabbing pain
  • Stiffness in the neck, upper back, or shoulder
  • An inability to turn or tilt your head
  • Headaches
  • Numbness or tingling in your shoulder or arms, otherwise known as radiculopathy

What are the different types of neck injuries a worker can suffer:

A few of the more common types of neck injuries include:

  • Soft tissue injuries. The various parts of the neck – the joints, soft tissue, bones, and cervical spine nerves are all connected. Many neck injuries involve damage to the soft tissue – the tendons, muscles, and ligaments.
  • Neck injuries that cause damage to nerves and/or your spinal cord.
  • A neck strain which is generally due to a strained neck muscle
  • A neck sprain which is generally damage to ligaments (the connective tissue that binds bones together). This type of workplace injury can be due to repetitive stress, sudden twists, or falls.
  • Whiplash. This injury, often due to a car accident, causes the neck to quickly move forward and backward stretching or tearing the tendons. Falls and trauma can also cause whiplash. Whiplash can damage spinal nerve roots and cause other health problems.
  • A herniated disc. This injury happens when the jelly-like substance inside the disc escapes and presses against the spinal cord and other nerves coming off of the spinal cord, causing harm to the nerves and usually radicular symptoms such as numbness and tingling in the upper extremities.
  • A fractured neck. This injury is due to a break in a cervical bone. Workers may need surgery, therapy, and other treatments.
  • A cervical dislocation, aka listhesis. This injury occurs when a bone of the neck moves out of a normal position. Surgery may be required.
  • Damage to the spinal cord, otherwise known as myelopathy. These injuries can be quite serious and require immediate treatment, usually surgery. They can cause severe symptoms in balance, coordination, even difficulty walking. If not treated, can result in severe paralysis.
  • Aggravation of Pre-Existing Conditions. Many times, particularly with workers who have been in manual labor occupations for many years, the cervical spine may have developed severe, undiagnosed degenerative conditions. These may include something called degenerative disc disease, where the discs have compressed over time, or bulging discs. These conditions may not even have caused the injured worker any symptoms…. Until the work accident. But the underlying pathology that was lying dormant in the spine makes the neck injury from an accident all the more severe. So long as the doctor can state that the accident caused a sudden mechanical change and aggravated the pre-existing pathology, it’s still compensable.

How is a neck injury diagnosed?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, in addition to a complete physical examination and the taking of the worker’s medical history, imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are often used to evaluate the location, type, and severity of a neck injury. In some cases, nerve conduction studies (EMG/NCS) and other tests may be required.

What are the treatments for neck injuries?

Some of the treatments for nerve injuries, depending on the type and severity of the injury, include:

  • Pain medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed for neck pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxants may also be prescribed.
  • Physical therapy. Many workers benefit from working with a physical therapist who helps with exercises that help strengthen the neck’s tendons and muscles while also improving flexibility.
  • A TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit. This medical device applies a “low-level electric current to your skin near your nerves to disrupt the pain signal causing discomfort.” Once these were only available via a prescription but they are now widely available at most drugstores without a prescription.
  • Steroid injections. Some workers with neck pain may need this injection given near the nerve roots – to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. This is typically done by a Pain Management Physician. It is usually attempted before surgery is recommended.
  • Surgery. Most workers who have neck pain don’t require surgery. But surgery may be necessary if one or more vertebrae or discs in the spine have moved or are leaking out of place and putting pressure on the nerves. This is especially the case if more conservative measures, such as physical therapy and injections, have failed to relieve the injured workers’ symptoms.

Surgeries may include:

-Cervical laminectomy/diskectomy at one or more levels of the spine. This is a cutting back or removal of the offending disc material so it no longer presses against the nerves.

-Cervical Fusion-if one or more discs are severely deformed or damaged, it may be necessary to remove the disc material entirely, and replace it with bone material so that the spinal processes at those levels eventually fuse into one bone. The bones at those levels are usually permanently affixed with plates and screws.

-Cervical Foraminotomy- the cervical foramina are tiny holes through your spinal bones. They serve as pathways where the nerves coming off the spinal cord go out and innervate your upper extremities. Sometimes, those holes get tight from bony material or from the nerves being inflamed and the holes may need to be widened and the surfaces smoothed, such that the nerves are not being compressed or “caught” by the bony material. The surgeon goes in and frees the nerve from any compression.

Pain Management. If severe, chronic neck pain continues even after surgery, the patient may be transferred to a pain management physician. This may include steroid injections and other medications to help relieve the pain.

Other possible therapies include acupuncture and massages.

Home therapies include hot therapy such as taking a hot shower or using a hot towel or heating pad to help blood flow – and cold therapy such as using a bag of frozen vegetables for 15 minutes every several hours which “narrows your blood vessels, reducing inflammation and swelling.” Cold therapy is generally used immediately after the injury while heat therapy is used later.

The time for a neck injury to heal well enough for a worker to return to work varies. For some workers, just a few weeks are required. Other workers may need several months of treatment. Some workers, especially those who were involved in heavy, manual labor, may never be able to return to their previous job after a serious cervical injury that requires surgery.

Workers’ compensation benefits while you’re treating for a neck injury

If you were injured in an accident during the scope of your employment, as long as your doctor is holding you out of work, you should be entitled to temporary disability wage benefits (2/3rds of your average weekly wage) and payment of all their medical bills. In North Carolina, (NOT Virginia) even if you return to work, you may be entitled to additional money for any permanent partial impairment in your spine which occurred as a result of your injury.

At Joe Miller Law Ltd., our North Carolina and Virginia workers’ compensation lawyer has helped thousands of injured workers and workers with occupational illnesses obtain the benefits they deserve. We understand the unique challenges involved with neck injury claims. We work with your doctors to confirm what type of injury you have, what treatments you need, and how your neck injuries affect your ability to work. To speak with a seasoned workers’ compensation lawyer call attorney Joe Miller, Esq., at 888-667-8295.

Our law firm does have a way for you to provide your details of your accident and injuries if you simply want to do that electronically from the comfort and safety of your home at any time of day or night. To utilize this service, simply click here: New Electronic Case Review.

We’ll get back to you, typically within 24 hours to provide our response as to whether your situation is one where we can provide you with legal representation. If we require more information, we’ll contact you and ask for that information in order to make that determination as to whether we are the best folks to assist you. If we ultimately determine that we cannot represent or assist you, we will not leave you high and dry. We’ll do our best to provide you with other resources to assist you.

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If you are looking at this site, you or a loved one has probably been hurt. If that's true, you've come to the right place. Helping people who have been hurt is what we do. In fact, it is all we do. Joe Miller Law is a law firm concentrating exclusively on representing people who are injured by the carelessness of others or those hurt on the job. We provide the highest quality legal services to people who have been seriously injured. We practice Personal Injury law and Workmens' Compensation law in both Virginia and North Carolina.