When people think about workers’ compensation and injuries, catastrophic injuries usually come to mind. Certainly, workers’ compensation protects a construction worker who falls and injures his spine. However, it also covers factory workers or office staff who develop debilitating repetitive stress or repetitive motion injuries. Slowly developed work injuries are still work injuries.
Not all work-related injuries happen as the result of a trauma. Many of them are the natural result of performing the same task, day after day, for years. Ignoring that pain or discomfort for a day or two can get you through a shift, but it could result in worsening symptoms over time. If pain, discomfort or weakness in a limb or joint persists, you should seek medical evaluation.
Many repetitive motion injuries involve your connective and support tissues. Your tendons connect your muscles to your skeletal system. Regular, repetitive motion can stress or injure your tendons. Injuries to the tendons, such as tendinitis, can make motion painful. Scrubbing, throwing, lifting, painting and many sports activities are associated with the development of tendinitis.
Another part of the body susceptible to repetitive motion injury is the bursa. A bursa is a sac between tissues to reduce friction. When the bursa becomes inflamed, pain and other symptoms can result. It’s easy to see how either of these conditions could leave you unable to perform your job as usual.
Needing to grip, lift, move, rotate or inspect items repetitively all day can do damage to your hands, arms and wrists. Similarly, holding a steering wheel or phone or typing all day can cause pain and inflammation in the hands and wrists. Sometimes, this pain is due to carpal tunnel.
Left untreated, carpal tunnel can worsen over time, resulting in tingling, numbness and even reduced grip strength. Some people require physical therapy and rest. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary for recovery. Carpal tunnel can leave workers unable to complete job duties or potentially unable to continue working full time.
As soon as you realize the pain and performance issues you have are not temporary issues, you need to seek medical care. If your employer provides job site medical care, that should be your first stop. Advise your manager of the situation and seek an evaluation. You may end up going to an offsite medical facility.
If your employer does not have medical facilities, you may need to make an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can diagnose the condition. If it clearly relates to your work, you can inform your employer of the diagnosis and file a claim for workers’ compensation coverage. You may need those benefits to access treatment and pay bills while you recover.