by James Creegan Esq.
The term “repetitive stress injury” covers a wide variety of conditions. A repetitive stress or strain injury happens when too much stress is placed on a given body part and can result in pain, swelling, muscle strains. and tissue damage. If your job involves performing the same task over and over, whether it’s data entry work, loading and unloading delivery trucks each day, stocking shelves, or operating heavy equipment, you are at risk for a repetitive stress injury.
Are repetitive stress injuries real? Workers’ compensation insurance companies generally don’t think so. I’ve represented multiple workers’ compensation clients in which insurance carriers have initially denied that a repetitive stress injury was caused by work –– that the day in, day out repetitive stress on the hands and wrists from work in a laundry room or performing data entry did not cause or contribute to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, for example. In other cases, the carrier claimed that only the most extreme activities, such as operating a jack hammer eight hours a day or constantly slamming a button with the palm of your hand all day, could cause an injury. When a person performs the same activity over and over, it can lead to chronic conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tears of tendons and ligaments, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. This is the opinion set forth by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as well as respected medical institutions ranging from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Before an insurance carrier will accept your claim, it will be necessary to (1) prove that you performed a certain repetitive activity and (2) prove that you suffer from an injury or condition that the activity can cause. This is why you’ll need an attorney.
A good example of a job in the public eye that is susceptible to a repetitive stress injury is a Major League Baseball pitcher. A pitcher trains for years just to be able to perform the same throwing motion over and over. The career length of a pitcher depends on how long his shoulder and arm will hold up, specifically due to the repetitive throwing motion. It is now common for younger pitchers to have limits to the number of pitches they throw in a game and the total innings they can throw in a season. Steven Strasburg, the young pitching phenom for the Washington Nationals, was just shut down for the year in the middle of the team’s first-ever playoff chase. The team is worried about overloading his arm and shoulder and shortening his career. The New York Yankees did this with Joba Chamberlain a few years ago as well. Why are Major League Baseball teams doing this? It’s not because they don’t care about ticket sales this year –– in fact, they really do, teams are concerned with prolonging a career to ensure ticket sales and success for years to come rather than a few games at the end of one season.
Can you imagine if this happened at your job? If, for instance, UPS or FedEx shut workers down after nine months to prolong their careers or a data entry employee being told not to type after a certain number of keystrokes in a given day –– businesses won’t do this because it is not profitable, it’s unproductive, and it would be akin to admitting the repetitive nature of the work causes injuries.
Whether a job is considered light duty or heavy duty is not the determining factor in whether you are at risk for a repetitive stress injury, it is the specific nature of the activity. What usually differs between jobs is the type of injury. It is more common for a desk worker to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, the restriction of the carpal canal in the wrists, thereby pushing on the nerves, as opposed to a back injury or rotator cuff tear. Whereas, heavy duty labor, such as mixing concrete or loading and unloading a delivery truck may be more likely to lead to chronic rotator cuff tears or a disc herniation in the neck and back. An electrician who works with his hands all day could develop carpal tunnel syndrome while an office worker who constantly reaches overhead for files could develop neck or shoulder problems.
The main thing to be aware of is that performing the same activity day in and day out can eventually cause serious physical problems. Because these injuries usually do not connect to one specific accident or injury, it can be hard for a worker to prove an insurance carrier should accept responsibility. Preventive measures such as proper ergonomics and exercise to strengthen affected body parts are very important, but these will not always help.
If you have been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury, you should consult with an attorney to consider your options. At Stark & Stark, the Workers’ Compensation Department’s mission is to provide quality, professional legal services to protect injured workers rights. We work together to achieve optimal results based on each client’s needs. Please call for a free consultation today to discuss what we can do for you.
James L. Creegan is a Shareholder and member of the Workers’ Compensation Group of Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Lawrenceville. www.stark-stark.com