Obesity is not a defense to workers compensation benefits in Wisconsin if the back disability is also caused in part to a traumatic work injury or to job duties over time. There is no question that obesity contributes to back pain and disability. By statistics, 68% of Americans are overweight because they have a body mass index (BMI) over 25, and 34% are obese with a BMI over 30! So we have to work on this. But when a worker's compensation doctor examines an injured worker and writes a report denying worker's compensation benefits or medical treatment saying the low back condition is due to personal reasons, such as obesity or smoking, they are not being honest with the law.
Overweight and obese people are at heightened risk and for severity of certain back problems. The American Obesity Association notes that episodes of musculoskeletal pain, and specifically back pain, are prevalent among the nearly one-third of Americans who are classified as obese and obese persons are disabled and less able to complete everyday activities than persons with other chronic conditions. Overall weight loss is helpful for relieving a degree of strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back. Work-related low back conditions such as herniated or bulging discs, SI joint dysfunction, degenerative disc disease, facet arthropathy, and simple muscle strains are all aggravated by obesity. Added weight to the stomach area is particularly bad as it weakens the abdominal core, distorting the spinal curve, pulling the pelvis forward and piling on the low back excessive stresses for having to compensate.
Doctors often advise that back surgery may also be affected by a patient's weight but this is something that needs to be clearly addressed by the patient and doctor before and after any back surgery.
Still, many of us go about our jobs every day regardless of our physical conditioning. Then, if an incident or accident happens on the job resulting in a new or even aggravation of a pre-existing low back condition, it is work-related and workers' compensation should be paid for benefits and medical bills. The insurance company cannot rely on an injured worker's pre-existing physical condition to deny benefits, if the work accident precipitated, aggravated and accelerated a pre-existing progressively deteriorating or degenerative condition beyond normal progression. At McCormick Law Office in Milwaukee our attorneys ask this question of the client's treating doctor, then it becomes a question for the worker's compensation judge to decide at hearing unless the case settles. The point is an injured worker should not just accept the insurance company determination that an overweight or obese person is disqualified from workers compensation benefits.