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Back Impairment

Accommodation and Compliance: Back Impairment

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About Back Impairment

Back injuries account for many of the musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. The major symptom of most back impairments is back pain, which can be localized or widespread radiating from a central point in the back. If ligaments and muscles are weak then discs in the lower back can become weakened. With excessive lifting, or a sudden fall, a disc can rupture. With years of back abuse, or with aging, the discs may simply wear out and a person may live with chronic pain for several years. However, back pain caused by a muscle strain or a ligament sprain will normally heal within a short time and may never cause further problems. Poor physical condition, poor posture, lack of exercise, and excessive body weight contribute to the number and severity of sprains and strains. Degeneration of the spine, due to aging, is also a major contributor to back pain.

Back Impairment and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA does not contain a definitive list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more "major life activities," (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).

Accommodating Employees with Back Impairment

People with back impairments may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with back impairments will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  6. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas:

Situations and Solutions:

The following situations and solutions are real-life examples of accommodations that were made by JAN customers. Because accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, these examples may not be effective for every workplace but give you an idea about the types of accommodations that are possible.

Events Regarding Back Impairment

Other Information Regarding Back Impairment


American Industrial Hygiene Association
American National Standards Institute
American Occupational Therapy Association
American Physical Therapy Association
American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP)
Arthritis Foundation
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES)
Institute for Chronic Pain
Job Accommodation Network
National Center for Biotechnology Information
National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Safety Council
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
Office of Disability Employment Policy
Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA)
Remedy's Health Communites
The Spine Health Foundation, Inc.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs