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Getting older has its pros and cons. One downside is that as the body ages, its joints begin to wear down. Most people think of gradual wear and tear on the hips and knees, but it is also common on the joints of the spine.  You can wake up with back pain for seemingly no reason.

In a healthy back, rubbery discs between the vertebra provide a cushion, contribute to our height, and facilitate bending and twisting. The discs act as shock absorbers. As we age, the discs begin to wear down.  Some days you might feel great, others you can be hurting.

In some people, the discs wear away completely and the bones rub against one another causing stiffness and pain. There is little blood supply to the discs (unlike with other body tissues), so they can’t repair themselves. Most people aged 40 and older experience some disc degeneration, but not always with pain.

Degenerative disc disease is not actually a disease, but a condition in which worn-down discs cause pain. Factors that lead to degenerative disc disease (DDD) include:

  • Drying out of the disc with age
  • Tears in the outer part of the disc due to a lot of lifting or activity
  • An injury to the spine

So how does degenerative disc disease relate to workers’ compensation? If most adults over 40 experience some disc degeneration, what changes an underlying condition to a workers’ compensation claim? Those are good questions.

Many people have DDD, but it’s asymptomatic. That means an MRI of your back might show a problem, but for the most part, you are able to live your day-to-day life with little to no problems with your back.  If you have a work-related incident that brings out the problem then you likely have a claim.  Under Illinois law, if a work injury accelerates or aggravates your degenerative disc disease, then it is covered under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

What is crazy is that many workers don’t even realize that they have an underlying back problem because they previously had no back pain. We have seen several instances of employees with DDD getting hurt at work and then developing a bulging disc or a herniation.  Others only show as having DDD on an MRI, but now have tremendous pain and need medical care that they didn’t before. Those are cases too.

These cases result from both one-time lifting accidents and continuous lifting over time.  It’s not unusual to just wake up and feel pain after a long day of work. Sometimes it goes away and other times the work you’ve been doing has just been gradually wearing away at you and finally, your body breaks down.

The bottom line is, whether or not you were experiencing back pain before a work injury, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation if you were hurt on the job. We are happy to speak with you about your specific situation and help determine if you have a case.