You probably know that worker’s compensation is for the big injuries: the slips and falls, the broken bones, the concussions, the cuts and burns.
But it’s also for the more subtle injuries that develop over time when your body sits or stands in a certain position. Or for the injuries that occur when you perform the same motion over and over again. These types of injuries are known as RSIs (or repetitive stress injuries). While they may be less dramatic than a big accident, they can still cause massive amounts of pain and strain and cut deeply into your quality of life. If you have one of these injuries (or have had one in the past), you know exactly what we’re talking about.
How Common are These Injuries?
The National Safety Council reports that RSIs represent 22% of nonfatal injury or illness events involving days away from work. RSIs are the second most common type of these nonfatal injuries or illnesses among workers, just behind exposure to harmful substances or environment.
Is it Hard to Get Worker’s Compensation to Cover RSIs?
It can be easier to get compensation for the big work injuries that happen all at once (such as slips and falls, broken bones, etc.). That’s because there’s a clear link between the event that caused your injury and the resulting health problems.
But RSIs can be harder to prove. For one, they’re not as easy to identify as a broken bone or a bloody wound. Your carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t so obvious to an onlooker.
It can also be hard to draw a clear line between your work and your RSI, and your insurance company will be working overtime to blur that line. For example, they may try to show that your carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of a pre-existing injury (like a dislocated wrist) or some other contributor (such as diabetes or thyroid problems, both of which can increase your risk for carpal tunnel syndrome).
Just because these injuries are harder to prove doesn’t mean that they can’t be proven. However, you should prepare for a potentially longer and harder fight with the insurance company—one that might require more documentation, evidence, and a greater knowledge of worker’s compensation law. An experienced Las Vegas job injury lawyer can help you create a strong, evidence-based case showing that it is at least as likely as not that your RSI is linked to your work.
What are the Most Common RSIs (and how do I Know if I’m Developing Them)?
Before we delve into the different types of injuries, here’s a quick anatomy lesson for body tissues that we’ll be referring to throughout the remainder of this article:
Tendon—fibrous band of tissue that connects your muscle to your bone
Ligament—fibrous band of tissue that connects two or more bones together at a joint, keeping your joint from slipping and sliding around.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is one of the most common types of RSI. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway from the wrist to the palm of the hand. It comprises tendons, ligaments, and bones. The median nerve runs through this tunnel.
The median nerve is important because it provides feeling to your thumb, index finger, middle finger, and the thumb side of your ring finger. When there is pressure on the median nerve, it can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This pressure can come from a wrist fracture or swelling and inflammation of the tendons and ligaments (from injuries or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis).
Symptoms: Tingling or numbness in the fingers and hand (though usually not in the little finger) that shoot from the wrist up the arm, difficulty making a fist or clutching objects.
Workplace triggers: Working with vibrating tools or on an assembly line can trigger carpal tunnel syndrome. Computer work has also been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Tennis elbow results from overuse of muscles and tendons in the elbow. It develops where the forearm tendons meet the bony bump on the outside of the elbow.
Symptoms: Pain in the outside of the elbow that can generate to the forearm and wrist, difficulty gripping an object or turning a doorknob.
Workplace triggers: Repetitive movements involving the wrist, arm, and elbow, such as painting, hammering, performing repairs, styling hair, cutting food, playing an instrument, etc.
Rotator Cuff Syndrome
A rotator cuff comprises tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint and keep the arm bone in the shoulder socket. Rotator cuff syndrome develops when muscles and tendons become irritated or tear.
Symptoms: A dull ache in the shoulder, difficulty reaching over your head or behind your back, overall weakness.
Workplace triggers: Operating construction machinery, painting, lifting heavy objects.
This occurs when the tendons become inflamed, causing pain just outside of the joint. Tendinitis can occur anywhere a tendon connects to a bone or muscle, such as in the elbow, wrist, knee, or ankle.
Symptoms: Pain when using the affected limb or joint, tenderness to the touch, and mild swelling.
Workplace triggers: Tasks that require repetitive movements of the arms or legs may cause tendinitis. These include construction work (such as swinging hammers), assembly line work, painting, styling hair, making repairs to homes or vehicles, warehouse work (where you are routinely reaching for products or boxes), cashiering, or computer work.
Back strains and sprains
Back injuries can be very difficult to diagnose and treat because backs are such a complex and intricate combination of bone, muscle, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and nerves.Strains are among the most common back injuries. Strains occur when you twist, pull, or tear your back muscles or tendons.
A sprain is similar to a strain, but it affects your ligaments.
Symptoms: Pain that worsens when you move, sudden muscle cramps, decreased motion (difficulty walking, standing, or bending to the front or the side).
Workplace triggers: Repetitive lifting or twisting motions, sitting or standing for prolonged amounts of time with improper posture.
Your joints absorb a lot of force and pressure, and a lot can go wrong at these points where bone meets bone. Thankfully, your joints are cushioned by bursae (fluid-filled sacs) that cushion the joints. Occasionally, though, these sacs become inflamed, often from injuries or joint overuse (though inflammation can also result from infection).
Symptoms: Pain, tenderness, and swelling around a joint such as your shoulder, hip, or knee.
Workplace triggers: Walking or running, repetitive leg bending (such as to lay carpet or perform home or machinery repairs), repetitive shoulder or elbow use (such as to paint, lay brick, or blow dry hair).
What Should I Do if I Suspect I Have an RSI?
Start by reporting it to your supervisor. As a general rule in Nevada, you are required to submit written notice of your workplace injury to your employer within seven days of the injury occurring. This becomes a little muddy with RSIs because they don’t develop on command. Often, they start subtly and may ebb and flow from day to day.
If in doubt, report early. One reason is that if you receive worker’s compensation, the compensation will be awarded beginning on the day that you reported the injury.
After that, your employer should direct you to get a medical exam with a contracted doctor. Share the facts surrounding your injury with your doctor, explaining how you believe your work triggered and/or worsened your condition.
Comply with your doctor’s recommendations. Otherwise, your employer could try to make the case that your injury isn’t as bad as you claimed or that you’re not serious about getting better. Comply with all recommended therapies and show up for all follow-up appointments.
What Worker’s Compensation Benefits are Available for Repetitive Strain Injuries?
Worker’s compensation should cover medical bills from your original diagnosis until the time you are healed or the doctor releases you from care. You may also receive temporary disability benefits to cover lost wages (or a portion of lost wages) if you are unable to return to work, or return in the same capacity.
If your injury renders you unable to work again, you may receive permanent disability. If your injury locks you out of your former job, you may qualify to receive vocational rehabilitation so that you can be trained to work in another capacity.
What if my Employer is Denying my Benefits? Or Asking Me to Return to Work Before I’m Ready?
This is where a Las Vegas worker’s compensation lawyer comes in. Because worker’s compensation law can be complicated for repetitive strain injuries, it will benefit you to have an experienced attorney on your side. They will know how to shut down the underhanded tactics of Big Insurance, lay out clear evidence to show that your injury is work-related, and make sure that you get all of the medical care, compensation, and time off that you need to recover fully. They can also ensure that you are not discriminated against in the workplace because of your injury.