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What PPD Should I Get for a Back Injury?

Serious back injuries and back surgeries often result in some amount of permanent impairment.  Basically, this means that you do not have a one hundred percent recovery from your injury.

Permanent impairment could result from limited range of motion.  You might not be able to lift as much as you did before. Pain could potentially cause permanent impairment as well.

This is really frustrating because you do not want to have a permanent impairment.  You want to recover fully from your injury so that you can get back to the life you had before.  Unfortunately, even with good medical treatment, many severe back injuries cause some sort of permanent limitations or restrictions.

When you have a permanent impairment from an injury at work, permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits are the way that Georgia’s workers’ compensation law compensates you.  PPD benefits are one of three basic types of benefits paid under Georgia law.

The other two basic types of workers compensation benefits are

  1. Wage loss benefits which come in two different forms, TTD and TPD
  2. Medical benefits

Woman with back painWhat types of back injuries cause permanent impairment?

Workers compensation back injuries can occur many different ways.  Some of the common causes of work-related back injuries include:

These types of accidents and others often cause serious back injuries.  While back sprains and strains may heal up without permanent impairment, work-related injuries to your back often result in herniated discs, lumbar and thoracic fractures, and other spinal injuries.

While not all back injuries cause permanent impairment, spinal injuries often do.  These injuries may also require you to undergo surgery to recover.  When you need surgery as a result of a back injury, you will very likely end up with some form of permanent impairment.

How do doctors determine my PPD rating for my back injury?

Your authorized treating physician should give you a permanent partial disability rating.  This rating will be a percentage rating to state the amount of your permanent impairment.

In some states, doctors decide the rating on their own.  But, in Georgia, doctors cannot just assign any number that they want when they give you a rating.

Georgia law requires doctors to use a book that is published by the American Medical Association.  This book is called The Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.  Georgia law currently requires doctors to use the 5th edition of this book.

The primary part of the AMA Guides that cover back injuries is Chapter 15, “The Spine”.  Your doctor should use this chapter to determine your back injury PPD rating.

The two methods for calculating PPD rating in the spine chapter are the Diagnosis-Related Estimates Method (DRE) and the Range-Of-Motion Method (ROM).  The method used by your doctor will depend on several different factors.  Sometimes, your doctor will use both methods and take the higher rating.

What PPD rating will I receive for my back injury?

The answer to this question depends on what your injury is.  It also depends on which method your doctor uses to rate your injury.

The Range of Motion (ROM) method is complicated to explain and involves very fact specific measurements.  Fortunately, doctors tend to use the DRE method more often.

There are some basic rules that you can understand about the DRE method of rating back injuries.  The DRE method has three tables doctors uses to rate spinal injuries:

  1. Lumbar spine table (Table 15-3 on page 384)
  2. Thoracic spine table (Table 15-4 on page 389)
  3. Cervical spine table (Table 15-5 on page 392)

These tables refer to three sections of your spine:

Each one of these tables is broken down into five different categories which are numbered one through five.  The higher the number of the category in which you are placed, the higher the permanent partial disability rating you will receive.

For lumbar and thoracic injuries, the lowest rating is 0 percent which is Category I.  The highest rating is Category V which is a rating of 25 to 28 percent.  Cervical spine injuries also have a 0 percent rating for Category I, but the Category V rating is 35 to 38 percent.

Female doctor with older man showing xray of spine and back at hospitalWhen does my doctor determine if I have permanent impairment as a result of my back injury?

The doctor will not be able to determine your permanent partial disability rating until you reach maximum medical improvement.  Before that point, your doctor cannot really say what permanent impairment you have.

Once you reach maximum medical improvement, your workers compensation doctor should determine whether you have a permanent partial disability rating.  The insurance company may request the doctor to determine the rating.

The Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation has rules that apply that require the insurance company to request ratings in certain situations.  Board Rule 263 states the situations where insurance companies have to request a rating.

Even if the insurance company does not request a rating, you or your attorney can still request a PPD rating from the doctor.  Getting a rating can be very important if you are not currently receiving workers compensation weekly benefits or if you are considering exploring settlement of your case.

What does my back PPD rating mean?

Your PPD percentage rating is the way that Georgia workers compensation measures the permanent impairment from your injury.  Payment for this permanent impairment is covered under Georgia’s workers compensation law.

The percent of your PPD rating determines how many weeks of permanent partial disability payments you receive.  The higher rating you receive, the long you will received PPD payments.

One thing that can be confusing about PPD is that there are different body parts to which you can be rated.  So, it is not only the percent rating but also the body part to which you are rated that determines the weeks of benefits you receive.  Usually, the PPD rating you receive for a back injury will be to your “body as a whole”.

This article I wrote provides a more detailed explanation of how different PPD ratings pay different amounts of benefits.

When will I receive PPD benefits once my doctor gives me a PPD rating?

This depends.  If you are still getting either temporary total disability or temporary partial disability benefits, you may not receive PPD benefits for a while.  If you are not getting TTD or TPD benefits, your PPD benefits should start within about a month of when the doctor gives your the rating.

What if I want more information about PPD benefits or workers compensation back injuries?

I have written another article that has more information about workers compensation PPD benefits.  You can find that article here.

Also, I recently wrote a new article that provides all sorts of information about workers compensation back injuries.  You can read that article here.

What if I have other questions about workers compensation?

Georgia’s workers compensation system can be very confusing.  You have to worry about getting the treatment you need and paying your bills while also worrying about not missing any deadlines that could cause you to lose your right to receive workers compensation benefits.

If you have questions, I would recommend that you try to get answers.  To find out more about how to schedule a time to talk to me about your workers compensation questions, just read this short article.

Jason Perkins is an attorney who specializes in representing injured workers.  He regularly publishes videos and write blog articles about Georgia’s workers compensation system and issues that are important to injured workers and their families. To be notified of Jason’s new workers compensation videos, subscribe to his Georgia Workers Compensation Video Series channel on YouTube by clicking the subscribe button below.

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Jason Perkins

Workers' Compensation Attorney

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