Knee injuries are one of the most common types of injuries that people sustain in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), knee injuries at work comprise 12 percent of all sprains, strains and tears that employees sustain, and more than 105,000 workers acquire knee injuries each year that are serious enough to have to stay home from work. The average amount of time employees have to recuperate away from work for knee injuries is 15 days, the BLS reports. However, because knee injuries are difficult to treat, slow to heal, and easy to reinjure, many workers never regain full use of their knees again and become permanently partially disabled when they sustain a serious knee injury.
Naturally, treatment costs and lost wages are a major concern for workers with knee injuries. Workers’ compensation laws in Iowa provide that when you are injured on the job or develop a knee condition related to your work duties, you usually are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. You’ll need to report your injury, file the required paperwork, and be able to substantiate your claim adequately to win your benefits, though.
Our firm handles numerous types of workers’ compensation claims for employees with knee injuries. Below, we discuss the most common types of knee injuries at work we see, available types of treatments and what types of benefits for which injured workers can qualify. For questions about how to prove your case and obtain your benefits, call one of our work injury attorneys at Walker, Billingsley & Bair for a consultation: 641-792-3595.
The medial collateral ligament, or MCL, is an essential ligament that contributes to the function and motion of the knee. The ligament runs from the femur (thigh bone) to about four inches above the tibia (shin bone). The primary function of the MCL is to prevent the leg from overextending, but the ligament is also key for stabilizing and rotating the knee. When a worker injures or tears the MCL, the pain is often severe. In addition to extreme pain, the injury may cause swelling, and it can be difficult if not impossible to put weight on the leg.
Those engaged in active professions may be at greater risk of MCL injuries. These types of knee injuries are often the result of a force of some sort that pushes the knee sideways, e.g., during a workplace slip and fall injury, from contact with machinery or equipment, or as a result of a work-related automobile accident.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the large, fibrous ligament that connects the tibia to the back bottom part of the femur. It’s a complex joint that stabilizes the knee area and keeps the shin bone from sliding forward. When a worker suffers an ACL tear injury, it causes pain, swelling, instability, loss of range of motion and decreased mobility. Most people who tear their ACL instinctively know right away that something ripped; a distinct “popping” sound usually occurs when the ACL tears.
One of the most common ways ACL tear injuries occur is when blunt force strikes the knee. The force pushes the knee into an abnormal or awkward position, causing the ACL to over-stretch and tear. For instance, when an object or piece of equipment falls on a worker's knee or when he accidentally rams into a stationary object or machine, it can cause acute ACL injury.
Direct contact with an object isn’t the only way ACLs are torn, though. Hyperextension and a sudden change of direction can cause the ligament to tear. If a worker's foot or knee gets caught between two objects and he or she attempts to pull it out, it can cause the ACL to stretch past its capabilities and rip.
The post-cruciate ligament, usually referred to as the PCL, is the ligament that runs along the back of the knee. It is responsible for keeping the thigh bone connected to the shin bone. When a worker sustains trauma to the PCL and it tears, it can be extremely painful and can take weeks to heal fully.
Medical professionals grade ligament injuries on a severity scale. A grade-one injury is the least severe PCL sprain and usually only involves the ligament being slightly stretched. A grade-two injury is slightly more severe and involves the ligament loosening and even partially tearing. With a grade-three injury, the most serious type of injury sprain, the PCL ligament tears in two, resulting in complete knee joint instability.
Knee trauma is what causes the PCL to tear. This can happen in various types of work accidents, including a slip and fall accident, a fall from a height, a workplace automobile or machinery accident, or any other situation in which a blow to the knee occurs, or the ligament stretches or pulls in an unnatural fashion.
LCL injuries involve the lateral collateral ligament, a ligament in the knee joint that runs along the outside of the knee joint, from the outside of the bottom of the femur to the top of the fibula. It plays a very important role in helping stabilize the knee. An LCL injury might involve a minor sprain, though some involve tears that require surgery, significant recovery time and missed time from work.
People often sustain LCL injuries in falls at work and in other types of accidents that put too much stress or direct force on the inside of the knee joint. Symptoms include inflammation, pain, swelling, instability, popping, soreness and an inability to put pressure on the knee.
Treatment for Knee Injuries
The treatment for knee injuries depends on the type and severity of the injury. In many cases, treatment involves just making the patient comfortable and keeping the knee immobilized to allow time for the body to heal. The doctor may prescribe pain medication and recommend splinting, ice compresses, elevating the knee, using a brace, and limiting physical activity until the pain and swelling subside. Physical therapy is often recommended as well to help regain function.
When one of the ligaments has been torn, surgery may be needed to repair the structures. Whether or not surgery is right for you is often contingent upon your expected level of post-healing exertion. Older people or those who are not very physical in their jobs may not opt for surgery, whereas younger adults and those with high physical demands might.
Recovery times vary, too. People in highly demanding physical jobs may require several months of recovery before returning to work; those in more sedentary positions may be able to return to work sooner. Make sure you work with your doctor to gauge accurately when you can go to work safely and which job tasks you can perform once you do.
Available Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Knee Injuries
When your injury is work-related, you become eligible for certain benefits, as per Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws. Benefits include the following:
- All reasonable and necessary medical expenses, including hospital bills, surgeries, follow-ups and rehab
- Prescriptions, medical aids (braces, splints), over-the-counter medications, etc.
- A portion of your pre-injury wages while you recuperate
- Partial disability payments if you have to return to work at a lesser-paying position to accommodate your injury
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits
To obtain workers’ compensation in Iowa, you’ll need to report your injury to your employer as soon as possible. Then, your employer will file a First Report of Injury.
Note, some workers’ compensation insurers may deny your claim at first, stating that your injury wasn’t work-related or that you had pre-existing knee injuries and hence, they shouldn’t have to pay your benefits. It’s a good idea to hire an attorney to help you with your claim to help you prove your case and appeal wrongly denied claims. Pre-existing injuries do not automatically disqualify you for benefits, by the way. If you do have a history of knee issues, as long as your work accident or job duties aggravated, accelerated or worsened it, you still can qualify.
Sustain a knee injury on the job? Let our lawyers help you secure benefits.
If you were hurt on the job, you’ll want to run your case by an attorney to ensure you fully understand your rights and responsibilities. This is especially true with claims involving knee injuries at work, which are often complicated and challenging to prove.
For an accomplished legal team that is passionate about helping injured workers in Iowa, call Walker, Billingsley & Bair at 641-792-3595 today or fill out our online contact form and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.