Many injuries on the job do not arise from a single precipitating event but develop gradually over months or years. Jobs across a broad range of industries require employees to repeat the same basic tasks. For example, an administrative assistant in an office may spend much of their day typing, leading to carpal tunnel syndrome. Or a construction worker may spend many hours using a jackhammer, resulting in hand-arm vibration syndrome. These conditions may make a worker eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, even though they cannot be traced to a single incident. However, a worker may need to compile stronger evidence to prove that a repetitive stress injury arose out of their job.
The most common example of a repetitive stress injury involves work with a computer keyboard. These conditions also can affect people in the health care industry, as well as delivery workers, bus drivers, and grocery store employees. People in the agricultural industry often use the same motions repeatedly, as do professional cleaners and housekeepers. More unusual occupations that involve a high risk of repetitive stress injuries include athletes, musicians, and professional entertainers.
Types and Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injuries
These conditions can take many forms, such as tendonitis, bursitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and painful back conditions. A worker may not feel excruciating pain at the outset, or they may notice discomfort only when they are doing certain activities. Eventually, though, the pain may become relentless and undermine their ability to handle not only their job but also activities of daily living. In addition to pain, symptoms may include tingling sensations, reduced range of motion, or even the loss of function of a body part.
Sometimes repetitive stress injuries are classified as a type of cumulative trauma, or these phrases may be used interchangeably. Workers’ compensation systems in some states may also refer to them as “overuse injuries.”
Claims Based on Work-Related Repetitive Stress Injuries
You should seek medical treatment if you suspect that you are developing symptoms of a repetitive stress injury. Delays in getting treatment could make your claim less persuasive to an employer or insurer, as well as allowing your condition to worsen. The recommendations of your doctor may play a role in the benefits that you recover by setting restrictions on your work.
Once the condition has been diagnosed, the employee or the employer will file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. You may want to explore the laws in your state to determine whether you need to meet a higher standard of proof. In some states, a worker must prove that work-related activities were the predominant cause of a repetitive stress injury, rather than just a contributing factor. Other states impose limits on types of cumulative trauma that are covered by workers’ compensation. These may relate to types of symptoms or the body parts that are affected.
Timing plays a key role in workers’ compensation claims. An injured worker must file their claim within a certain period, which usually extends from the date of the injury. This can be harder to identify in a situation involving a repetitive stress injury. The general rule is that the clock starts running when you discovered or should have discovered that you had a disability and that it was related to your job.