Repetitive stress injuries (RSI) are one of the most common workers’ compensation claims, costing insurance carriers a great deal of money each year. Also known as repetitive trauma, repetitive motion, or overuse injuries, these conditions tend to result in long absences from work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
RSIs are common in many U.S. industries and occupations. Healthcare workers, firefighters, construction workers and delivery workers are frequent victims, as are employees who are involved in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and repair, or food prep and service.
Any type of work where you are repeating the same motion over and over, including computer work, can cause a repetition injury. Victims of repetitive motion injuries (RMI) will typically have damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and ligaments. If you are regularly exposed to loud noise at work and your hearing is damaged, this can also be classified as a workers’ compensation RSI.
Common RSI Conditions in Workers’ Comp
Some of the most common RSIs treated through workers’ compensation include:
- Tendonitis– Tendonitis occurs when the tissue connecting muscle to bone becomes inflamed. This can affect the hand, arm, shoulder, hip, knee or foot, and includes conditions known as “trigger finger,” “tennis elbow” and “rotator cuff syndrome.”
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome– Especially common among women, this injury affects the arm, wrist and hand. The painful disorder occurs when the median nerve, traveling from the forearm to the hand, is compressed by swelling and inflammation.
- Bursitis– A repetitive motion condition affecting knees, shoulders, elbows, and hips, bursitis results from inflammation of the fluid-filled pads that cushion joints.
- Degenerative discs–This repetitive trauma disease results from wear and tear on the discs that make up the spinal column. Painful symptoms are most often experienced in the lower back or the neck.
- Hearing loss– Repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (or a single exposure to an explosive sound) can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NHL).
Repetitive Motion Symptoms
Injuries caused by repetitive movement occur over a period of time, and initial symptoms may be mild and easily ignored. Eventually, you may begin to notice increasing pain, as well as stiffness, tingling and/or numbness in the affected area. Further down the road, there may be loss of strength, coordination, range of motion or flexibility.
Untreated RSI’s can leave you with a permanent disability that rules out working in your customary job – or, in extreme cases, prevents working at all.
If You have Repetitive Injury Symptoms
If you experience any symptoms of a repetitive injury, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. Treatment of RMI injuries often includes rest, elevation, splinting and anti-inflammatory medication. There may also be rehabilitative exercises, occupational therapy, and training in best ergonomic positions to prevent further injury. Some workers will require a change in job tasks.
It is important to report your injury to your employer within 30 days of discovery. If you believe you might have an RSI, report it and ask to see a workers’ comp doctor. You may need to take steps to ensure your claim is properly handled. If your employer or insurance carrier seems to be avoiding or downplaying your claim, it may be time to talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer.