Contributed by Pond Lehockey Stern Giordano
Many people associate workers’ compensation with one-time catastrophic work accidents such as a construction worker falling from scaffolding or a carpenter losing a limb. While these types of devastating injuries are most certainly eligible for workers’ compensation, there are other injuries that can take months or even years to develop. Repetitive strain injury workers’ compensation cases, sometimes called Mancini workers’ compensation cases, are also compensable under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.
What is a repetitive strain injury?
A repetitive strain injury or a repetitive motion injury is chronic pain — usually in the muscles, nerves and/or tendons — that develops as a result of repeating certain movements frequently.
Imagine a plumber that has been working in his or her profession for over 25 years. There are many actions that plumbers must perform repeatedly to do their jobs — tighten bolts, screw in small parts, cut through pipes, etc. Over time, their wrists and joints could be affected by these daily repetitive movements.
Common repetitive strain injuries include:
- Edema: a fluid build-up in cavities, which can cause tissue to swell
- Tendinosis: the degeneration of a tendon’s collagen because of chronic overuse
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: a condition that causes numbness and tingling in the hand and arm due to a pinched wrist nerve
- Raynaud's disease: occurs when the small arteries that supply blood to the skin narrow excessively, limiting blood flow to the affected areas in response to the cold or stress
- Cubital tunnel syndrome: develops because of pressure on the unlar nerve, which resides in the section of the elbow commonly called the “funny bone”
- De Quervain syndrome: affects the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist, causing pain and swelling near the base of the wrist
- Thoracic outlet syndrome: a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves become compressed between the collarbone and first rib; includes a wide variety of symptoms such as numbness, pain and swelling in the arms or hands, weaken grip, blood clots and coldness in the hands or fingers
- Intersection syndrome: a painful inflammation of specific muscles within the forearm and wrist
- Dupuytren's contracture: a thickening of deep tissue in the palm, which can lead to permanently bent fingers
- Rotator cuff syndrome: damage to any of the tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place; symptoms include an ache in the shoulder, difficulty lifting the arm behind the shoulder and weakness in the arm
- Medial epicondylitis: commonly referred to as golfer's elbow, pain occurs near the inside of the lower arm near the elbow, which can include numbness and tingling
- Lateral epicondylitis: commonly known as tennis elbow, this condition causes pain on the outside of the elbow and sometimes the forearm and wrist
- Stenosing tenosynovitis: also referred to as trigger finger, this condition causes a finger to become stuck in the bent position then snaps straight because the tendon in the finger is inflamed
- Radial tunnel syndrome: caused by an increase in pressure on the radial nerve, which runs along the bones and muscles of the forearm and elbow; this condition causes a sharp pain at the top of the forearm
Is my repetitive strain injury covered under workers’ comp?
Any injury that is directly correlated to your occupation is covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act. Injuries that occur over time can also be covered as long as they are related to your job duties. Even if you have a pre-existing condition that has been aggravated or accelerated because of your occupation, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
For example, say a painter had shoulder pain when he originally began his job. After a few years of constantly reaching above his head to paint, his shoulder pain worsened and developed into a rotator cuff injury. His injury is still covered under PA workers’ compensation because his work duties accelerated the condition.
What do I do if I think I have a repetitive strain injury?
- First and foremost, report your injury to your employer. Many people may not realize that they have a repetitive motion injury, but as soon as you can relate an injury to your job, you must notify your employer.
- It is also incredibly important to treat with a doctor for your condition. A doctor’s diagnosis is crucial to proving that your injury is related to your job. Treating with a specialist for your condition is best because he/she knows these types of injuries well and can provide an expert opinion.
- Contact an attorney to protect your right to workers’ compensation benefits. Since repetitive motion injuries happen over time, they can be difficult to prove — even with a doctor’s diagnosis. Some insurance companies and employers are quick to deny injured workers’ their rightful benefits. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer knows the law inside and out. You may need to file an appeal if your benefits are denied. An attorney can also review benefits your currently have to ensure that you’re receiving a fair compensation amount.