Ohio BWC Details Longstanding Partnership with SRI

Posted: July 9, 2021
Ohio BWC

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Because of the prevalence of back-related injuries, The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) has been devoted to preventing and treating them for many years.

In its blogpost, the BWC recently highlighted several projects on which it has collaborated with the Spine Research Institute.  This began in the mid-1980s, where the SRI team, led by Dr. William Marras, received the first of multiple research grants from the BWC's Division of Safety and Hygiene.  Its focus was on musculoskeletal disorders, and studies have continued ever since, resulting in numerous leading-edge research projects to treat and prevent back injuries in the workplace.  Some of these efforts are summarized below

  • Development of the Lumbar Motion Monitor (LMM), the first wearable sensor for the spine, which is now enjoying worldwide use. The LMM monitors the motion of a person’s lower back. These motions are then compared to databases to assess injury risk or quantify an individual's level of spine impairment.  
  • Using the LMM, SRI researchers also developed a set of lifting guidelines that employers are now free to use to facilitate transitional work and evaluate lifting tasks.  By using trends in injury data, jobs were identified that would likely result in back injuries, and researchers measured forces on the body while people lifted and performed job tasks. This data was used to create a set of easy-to-use guidelines for employers, medical professionals, and transitional work providers. 
  • Researchers at the SRI have also worked closely with the BWC's Medical division, analyzing BWC injury data, and measuring the effectiveness of spinal fusion surgery for patients with musculoskeletal disorders. This work has helped to change the guidelines for treatment in the state of Ohio to provide injured workers more effective treatment.  

Today, the SRI team is working to understand all the factors that go into finding an effective treatment. Often, it is difficult to understand the exact injury, so treatment is done on a trial-and-error basis that eventually leads to the patient having spinal surgery. Surgery can be costly and only has a 50% success rate. By phenotyping back injuries and collecting a multitude of data on the way patients move their spines, SRI researchers plan to develop a database that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify the best treatments.

The future is all about prevention. “The best way to treat a back injury is to never have it,” said Dr. Marras. Eventually, the SRI hopes to use these databases to prevent back injuries from occurring.  By looking at the combinations of physical and psychosocial factors that contribute to injuries, we can better understand who will get injured and prevent it from happening.

Adapted from the blog post, Spine Research Institute Partnership Aims to Prevent Back Injuries,
by Mike Lampl, Research and Grants Director, Ohio BWC (July 9, 2021)