Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Repetitive Motion Injuries?
For many people, the idea of a work-related injury involves hurting your back while lifting a heavy object, falling on a wet floor in a factory or breaking an arm when an object falls from a rack of heavy items in a warehouse. All of these mishaps certainly qualify as work-related injuries and are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
However, According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health, 33% of all workers’ injury and illness cases in 2013 were caused by repetitive strain injuries, also known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Why the sudden shift away from the more violent episodes of being hurt on the job mentioned above? Fewer and fewer Americans work on shop factory floors, and more and more work in cubicles in front of a computer monitor or in a service business where performing a repetitive motion is increasingly part of the job. As a result, more people are filing for workers’ compensation benefits as a result of a repetitive stress injury.
What Is a Repetitive Stress Injury?
Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) go by different names in different states. Some states refer to them as overuse injuries. Others refer to them as cumulative trauma, although this category also includes other injuries that may develop over time from repeated exposure to things like loud noises resulting in hearing loss. Pennsylvania uses the term repetitive stress injury.
Many different conditions fall under the category of RSIs:
1. Tennis Elbow
Officially named epicondylitis, tennis elbow involves the inflammation of tendons that connect the outside of the elbow to the muscles of the forearm. It can be quite painful. If not treated promptly, it will lead to damage to both the tendons and the muscles. The preliminary signs of tennis elbow involve pain on the outside of the elbow and a loss of grip strength.
2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is probably the condition that comes to mind for most people when they think of an RSI. That is because between four to 10 million people in the United States in 2017 have carpal tunnel syndrome, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Although there can be several different causes, including gender, weight, age, pregnancy, diabetes, arthritis or disease, the most frequent cause is constant typing and the movement of a computer mouse.
If you type 40 words a minute, that means you can press as many as 12,000 keys in an hour. So if you work an eight hour day, you could press as many 96,000 keys a day. When this is repeated over months, or even years, it is easy to see how swelling can result.
Carpal tunnel is the result of pressure on the nerves in the wrist. This can pressure the median nerve and the tendons that are used to flex fingers when they travel through the narrow carpal tunnel in the wrist. Since the tunnel is so narrow, a small amount of swelling can lead to numbness, pain and weakness.
If you notice that you have a tingling sensation in your hands or wrists while you are performing your duties during the day or that you are having troubles forming a fist or grabbing objects, chances are you have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Your bursae are the fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions for the muscles, tendons and bones attached to your joints. Bursitis occurs when these sacs become inflamed, typically affecting the shoulder, the elbow or the hip. They can also happen near any joint that performs a repetitive motion, such as a toe or a knee used when operating a piece of machinery.
This injury is another common RSI you may experience if you are required to carry out repetitive motions related to your job. Tendinitis is simply when a tendon becomes inflamed. A tendon is a thick cord that connects your muscle to your bone. If you have tendinitis, you will feel pain and experience swelling and tenderness near the site where the tendon is attached to the muscle.
5. Rotator Cuff Syndrome, Trigger Finger and Impingement Syndrome
These are other less common RSIs, connected to work-related repetitive activities that can still cause an employee a great deal of pain and discomfort and prevent them from doing their jobs.
How Can You Tell if You Have an RSI?
In the beginning, you may not have any real symptoms, or you may only notice pain or tingling when doing one particular motion or taking a particular posture. Unless treated relatively early, RSIs can be injuries that affect a person for a great deal of time. Over time, the following symptoms will develop in the areas of your body where an RSI has developed:
- Tingling, particularly in your hands, fingers or feet.
- Tenderness and pain on the site of the injury that ranges from a dull ache to throbbing or acute pain.
- A feeling of numbness, particularly in your hands, fingers or feet.
- A noticeable loss of strength and an inability to grip objects or form a fist.
- A loss of flexibility.
- A reduced range of motion.
What Are the Jobs Where Repetitive Stress Injuries Can Occur?
As we noted above, typing involved with computer work is probably the best-known form of an RSI. But it is not the only one, nor is working on a computer the only job where an RSI is a potential problem. An RSI can develop from a task that requires frequent carrying or lifting, using a jackhammer or another piece of vibrating equipment or holding an awkward position all day. Other employees at risk of being hurt on the job include:
- Cashiers who use a cash register constantly or spend all day swiping barcodes on the scanner can develop an RSI.
- Silkscreen printers employed to reproduce paintings or other artworks frequently develop an RSI in the wrists.
- Healthcare workers and nurses can develop RSIs from lifting and carrying, as well as potential back problems.
- Janitors or people employed as household cleaners who performed the same repetitive tasks day after day can develop an RSI.
- Even firefighters, musicians and professional athletes can develop a repetitive stress injury if required to perform a repetitive motion.
How Do I Make a Workers’ Compensation Claim for an RSI?
If you believe you have an RSI, the first thing to do is report it to your employer and request to see a doctor to confirm your injuries. If you believe that the RSI is work-related, you must follow the rules in the workers’ comp system for seeking medical treatment in this situation.
In Pennsylvania, you are required to receive treatment for the first 90 days from a physician on your employer’s list of designated physicians. If your employer does not tell you that you need to do this, then they are responsible for paying for the medical care that you receive from your own doctor for the first 90 days. After 90 days, you can use any doctor you wish.
If you are suffering from a work-related RSI, you need to notify your employer as soon as possible. Under Pennsylvania law, experiencing an RSI is not like experiencing a more violent episode that leads to an injury, which obviously has a clear start date.
RSIs develop over time. You must notify your employer as soon as you believe you have a repetitive stress injury. One important reason for doing this is that if you are forced to take time off work to recover, workers’ compensation will normally cover you from the moment you believe you have the condition, and reporting it to your employer helps establish that date. Generally, this is the last date you performed your job that caused injury before you had any work restrictions.
You must report your injury to your employer within 120 days of realizing that you have a repetitive stress injury. You then have three years from the date that you started to experience some disability caused by the RSI — such as requiring medical care or missing work — to file a workers’ compensation claim.
While you cannot file a workers’ compensation claim for a repetitive motion injury suffered at a previous job, you can file one if you had an RSI in the past and recovered, but the situation has become bad again due to a work-related activity at your new job.
Do I Need Proof to Receive Worker’s Compensation for a Repetitive Motion Injury?
To receive repetitive motion injury coverage, you need proof of your injury. In most workers’ compensation cases involving RSI, the burden of proof is on the employee to show that a repetitive activity associated with their job led to them developing an RSI. In Pennsylvania, repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome are considered workplace injuries. As a result, if your claim is denied by your employer, and you ask for a hearing from the Workers’ Compensation Commission, your burden of proof is lower. You need to prove your injuries are “more likely than not” to have occurred on the job.
Most employers and their insurance companies will fight RSI claims. They will look for any other reason to explain the repetitive stress injury. They will argue that the injury could be caused by age, that the employee has arthritis or diabetes or that the injury did not occur while the employee was working at that job site.
They try so hard to disprove a repetitive stress injury because treatment for RSIs can be quite expensive. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, RSIs resulted in very long absences from work in the early 2000s. That is why it is important to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who has dealt with this sort of workers’ compensation claim. If you are going to get the workers’ comp benefits to which you are entitled, there is a very good chance that you will need to fight for them.
How Much Can You Claim for a Repetitive Stress Injury?
In Pennsylvania, you will receive the following benefits if it is determined that you are suffering from a repetitive stress injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome:
1. Medical Bills
Any medical bills acquired in the course of treatment for your RSI will be paid until you are healed or a doctor has determined that you have recovered enough to return to work, often with some form of restrictions. This is another good reason to work with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney – as we noted above, employers will do anything they can to either prevent you from claiming workers’ compensation for an RSI or limit the amount of time that they are forced to provide for your medical bills.
If you believe that you are not ready to return to work, but a doctor has said that you are, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you.
2. Temporary Disability Benefits
If an RSI prevents you from performing your normal duties on the job and you are forced to miss time at work, you may be entitled to receive temporary disability benefits to cover any wages you may have lost. It is important to note that these payments are not available immediately in most cases, but only after you miss several days of work as a result of your injury.
In Pennsylvania, benefits for lost wages are calculated based on what is known as the average weekly wage. Normally you will receive 66 percent of the amount that you earned before you suffered your injury. There are maximums to the benefits, so a highly paid worker will often receive less than 66 percent. Some other exceptions also apply. It is important to speak to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can help you determine the benefits to which you are eligible for lost wages.
3. Permanent Disability Benefits
If your injury is so severe that it is impossible for you to recover completely, you may be eligible to receive permanent disability benefits. Another possibility is that your employer can make changes to your job so that you will no longer have to repeat the activities that led to the RSI. If that is not possible, workers’ compensation will provide benefits for vocational training so that you may learn skills for a new job.
Suffering From a Repetitive Stress Injury? Let KBG Injury Law Help You Recover the Benefits to Which You Are Entitled
Dealing with workers’ compensation at any time is a difficult process. Your employer may be giving you a hard time about filing a claim. In the meantime, you are probably still suffering ill effects from your injury, are worried about replacing the income that you are losing or may be worried about how your injury is affecting your family. These are all good reasons why you should work with one of the experienced workers’ compensation lawyers at KBG Injury Law.
We look at every case carefully. We see our clients not as customers but as community members that need help. We will do our very best to make sure that you receive the benefits to which you are entitled. And since we work on a contingency basis, you will not have to pay a penny until you receive a settlement.
If you have any questions, please call us at 800-509-1011 or contact us and leave us your details and some information about your case and a member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.