Last Updated: 5/30/2024

Every year there are more than 35,000 reported nonfatal work injuries in Iowa. Thankfully most injured workers get the medical care and treatment they need to heal and get back to work. Unfortunately, some employers and insurance companies drag their feet and delay medical care which can turn a temporary injury into a permanent one.

This is because Iowa is an employer choice state which means your employer and/or their insurance company get to choose your medical providers subject to a few exceptions. Below are some of the most common work injuries that occur in Iowa and some pointers on how to deal with them while at work. Note: We are lawyers and none of this should be interpreted as medical advice. You should consult a doctor to determine your best course of treatment.

1. Shoulder injuries

Year after year shoulder injuries are among the most common and often most debilitating work injuries that we see. They can range from a torn rotator cuff, muscle strain, labral tear, or several other shoulder conditions.

Shoulder injuries can be caused by overhead work, lifting too much weight, trying to break your fall after slipping and falling, or doing repetitive work with your arms. If you hear and/or feel a pop, have sudden pain in your shoulder, or have worsening shoulder pain over time then you need to report your injury to your employer right away. Failing to do so can result in your claim being denied and you receiving no medical or monetary compensation for your shoulder injuries. 

Once you have reported the injury, it is very important that you tell your employer, doctor, nurses, insurance company, and other people who ask you about your injury and all the problems you are having. For example, often people with shoulder pain end up with pain in their neck, trapezius, and upper back. Also, it is common for a person with a right shoulder injury to develop left shoulder pain due to overuse. 

If you do not report the other medical problems that you are having then it will not be put in your medical records, which can make it difficult later should these other problems continue.

2. Back and neck injuries

It is common for manual labor workers to be required to lift 50 or more pounds several times per hour. This heavy lifting can take a toll on your back and/or neck. Often lifting at different angles or maybe from the floor. Back and neck injuries are commonly caused by lifting, but may also be caused by carrying heavy items, falling, and other industrial or car accidents.

As with all work injuries, your first job is to report the injury to your employer. Failing to timely report your work injury can cause you to receive no medical care or compensation for your injuries. However, keep in mind that reporting a work injury on Monday morning after a weekend raises a red flag with your employer and their insurance company.

If you are having pain and problems caused by your work activities it is best to report the pain and problems when they occur at work. Make sure that you report the injury both verbally and in writing. You should keep a copy of the provided notice to your employer. Too many times we have seen these documents disappear.

After you have timely and properly reported your work injury you should ask for medical care and treatment. Keep in mind that your employer and their insurance company, subject to a few exceptions, are allowed to control who you see for medical care including doctors, physical therapists, and other specialists.

While you are being treated for a back or neck injury, look for these warning signs, of a more severe injury and report them to your medical providers right away. These include leg or arm pain often radiating from your back into your buttocks and/or legs for a back injury, radiating from your neck into your arms; hands and fingers for a neck injury; difficulty walking (sometimes also referred to as foot drop); and incontinence (loss of bladder or valve function).

They are all warning signs that there may be a herniated disc in your spine putting pressure on your spinal nerves and/or spinal cord itself. This needs to be dealt with immediately or you can risk sustaining additional damage which may be permanent.  

3. Arm and hand injuries

Repetitive injuries like carpel or cubital tunnel to traumatic amputations of one or more fingers or hands. These injuries can be quite devasting both physically and emotionally so make sure you are telling your doctors and other medical professionals about all the problems that you are having. This includes loss of self-worth, depression, anxiety, and any other mental and physical problems you are experiencing caused by the work injury. Mental injuries that develop because of a physical injury are common and discussed more below.

4. Leg and foot injuries

The most common leg injuries we see are knee injuries such as a torn meniscus, torn ACL, torn MCL, etc. Foot injuries vary but are often crush injuries or broken bones in the foot such as a calcaneus (heel bone) fracture caused by a fall from a few feet or higher.

These injuries can have lifelong effects on an injured worker. It is common for workers to develop a limp following a leg or foot injury which can lead to lower back and hip pain. You may think the pain will go away on its own, but you need to report all problems you are having due to the work injury including back pain and hip pain.

Failing to report these can dramatically reduce the value of your case if you end up losing your job, cannot return to your same work, and/or your back and hip pain continues long after your leg or foot has healed.

5. Hip injuries

While less common than other injuries, we do see workers sustain hip injuries from both traumatic events like a fall or cumulative trauma such as climbing ladders, bending down repetitively, etc. Often a serious hip injury will require hip replacement surgery which insurance companies do not like to pay for.

It is important that you describe to your medical providers just exactly how your work activities have caused your hip problems. Failing to explain this can result in the doctor stating that your hip may be work-related, but that the hip replacement that the doctor is recommending is not work-related.

6. Physical-Mental injuries

Getting injured at work, being required to see their doctors, and dealing with the pain can be very taxing both physically and mentally. It is common for workers to develop depression and/or anxiety following a work injury.

Some workers develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) if they were injured in such a way that they could have been killed or severely injured. Mental health problems often require medications and counseling but can get better with time. However, if you do not report your depression and/or anxiety to your doctors you may not be treated and likely not be compensated should the condition end up being permanent.

7. Other injuries

There are lots of medical conditions that can develop after a work injury including mental health conditions discussed in detail above, CPRS (complex regional pain syndrome), and other medical conditions.

CRPS is one of the most common conditions that injured workers sometimes develop after an injury or surgery. CRPS symptoms include extreme pain with one or more of the following changes such as skin color, temperature of the skin, blood flow, swelling, sweating, hair growth, etc. If you notice that your pain seems to be more extreme than what the doctors expect then look for these other signs because with early treatment of CRPS sometimes the symptoms go away.

Unfortunately, many doctors are not trained to look for symptoms of CRPS and/or ignore the problems that the patient is having instead accusing the patient of exaggerating or faking their injuries. You must be an advocate for your medical conditions. Still, you should not be belligerent with your doctor or other medical providers because if you are they will likely say bad things about you and your work injury in your medical records.

Keep in mind that if you do not believe you are being treated correctly, then you can always seek medical care and treatment on your own but will at least initially have to pay for the office visit.

There is a process called alternative medical care which is a way to change your medical care to another doctor. However, the process does have several legal requirements and it is always best to have some other care recommended by your own doctor before proceeding.

To learn more about alternative medical care along with the Iowa Injured Workers’ Bill of Rights request a copy of Iowa Workers’ Compensation Guide- An Insider’s Guide to Work Injuries. We offer our book at no cost to you because we have seen too many hardworking Iowa workers get jerked around and ripped off by greedy insurance companies. There is no risk and your information will remain confidential so claim your copy now so you can learn about how you can avoid costly mistakes in your work injury case in the comfort of your own home. If you need immediate assistance, call us at 641-792-3595 (phones are answered 24/7) or fill out a contact us form

Corey Walker
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With over 28 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.