Some work injuries can happen in an instant when a workplace accident takes place. Other work injuries, illnesses and psychological damage can develop over time. From a workers’ compensation perspective, these are often the most difficult cases because there is a lot more gray area compared to a workplace accident case where the cause and effect are clearly determined.
The Costs of Chronic Pain
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 50 million adults suffer from chronic pain in the United States. The cost of headaches, lower back pain, neuropathy and other types of chronic pain have an astronomical annual price tag of $635 billion.
What is Chronic Pain?
Any physical pain that lasts for more than six months is considered “chronic pain” by medical experts. Sometimes, the pain may be mild and we fight through it. Other times, it can be extremely debilitating and excruciating. Chronic pain is often caused by repetitive stress. For example, a job that requires a lot of heavy lifting may lead to lower back or knee pain. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to perform your job and you end up going home many nights in complete agony.
Some common examples of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) include:
- Back & Neck Pain
- Joint Pain
- Muscle & Ligament Damage
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Vision Impairment
- Hearing Impairment
Symptoms of Chronic Pain
Workers with chronic pain may experience the following symptoms:
- Pain, from tenderness and dull aches to throbbing or acute pain
- Loss of strength or coordination
- Reduced range of motion or flexibility
In the early stages, workers may not notice any symptoms or they may only experience symptoms when performing certain motions or holding a particular posture. If the symptoms are left untreated, workers may experience symptoms more frequently and become unable to perform their job responsibilities.
Causes of Chronic Pain Among Workers
A CDC study found that 15 percent of US workers are dealing with chronic pain. A few causes of job-related repetitive stress injuries include:
- Computer and typing-related activities. As technology continues to advance and automate tasks, many workers are spending more and more time behind computer screens and digital devices that require typing.
- Bar-code scanning. Grocers and retail workers are at increased risk of developing a repetitive stress injury from standing at cash registers for long periods of time and scanning countless items.
- Static posturing. Workers who stand or sit for prolonged periods of time while performing work functions are at risk of developing repetitive stress injuries. Another example is an electrician who needs to work in tight or cramped spaces.
Repetitive stress injuries may also be caused by reaching overhead (for warehouse workers), overuse of the hands and fingers (for massage therapists), and performing assembly-line work that has little or no variation in movement.
Who Is At Risk Of Work-Related RSI?
Besides occupations requiring extensive computer use, other high-risk jobs for RSIs include:
- Nurses and health care aides
- Bus drivers
- Delivery workers
- Grocery and stock clerks
- Janitors and housekeeping cleaners
- Plumbers and pipefitters
- Professional athletes
- Agricultural and meat processing workers
What To Do If You Suspect a Work-Related RSI
If you notice symptoms of an RSI, it’s important to notify your employer as soon as possible and schedule an appointment with your physician. Avoid “sucking it up” and waiting for the pain to just go away on its own — this may cause the condition to worsen and make it more difficult to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
At the doctor’s appointment, be sure to tell the doctor exactly what you were doing when you experienced the symptoms and what time of day it was. You may need to reduce your working hours, restrict work functions and take longer breaks.
Workers’ Compensation for Repetitive Stress Injuries
If your job is primarily to blame for your chronic pain or debilitating condition, you need to take legal action. You don’t have to suffer through every day in pain. Chronic pain gives you just as much right to workers’ compensation benefits as an accident-based injury.
Chronic pain can often be very complex to treat. It may involve physical therapy, medication and even psychological therapy. Your medical costs should be covered. If your pain ever puts you out of work for a significant period of time, you will also need your living expenses to be covered for as long as you are without a paycheck. You may also be entitled to job retraining and educational expenses. Working the same job will likely only compound your physical issues, so the opportunity may be there to find a different job that doesn’t cause you more pain.
The truth is that, though most of the chronic pain can be traced back to your job, there may be other factors outside of work that exacerbate the condition. Maybe you play sports or live an active lifestyle. Maybe you live a very sedentary lifestyle because of your injury, and that only leads to more pain when you are on the job because your body isn’t properly conditioned. Employers, along with their insurers and doctors, will look at these additional factors and may try to use them against you when you file a workers’ compensation claim.
Legal Support for Your Workers’ Compensation Claim
Chronic pain and repetitive stress workers’ compensation cases are notoriously more challenging than workplace accident cases. This is why you want to have an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer working for you. It’s very important to submit all the correct medical documentation and legal paperwork at the beginning of the claim. Then, you need a workers’ compensation attorney to help if and when there are denials, appeals and settlement negotiations. Thomas F. Martin is the leading workers’ compensation attorney in Orange County, CA workers count on for legal representation.
When you suffer from chronic pain because of your job, you have the right to receive workers’ compensation benefits. To learn more about filing your claim and to get started with the legal process, contact the workers’ compensation law offices of Thomas F. Martin today.