Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), also referred to as repetitive motion injuries or cumulative trauma injuries, are a common and costly occupational problem. Office workers who develop carpal tunnel syndrome and construction workers who develop Raynaud's disease from working with jackhammers all day are just a few of the 100+ types of job-induced conditions that result from wear and tear on the body.
Some of the ways in which workers can develop RSIs include performing repetitive motions, performing forceful movements, holding an awkward posture, or performing regular heavy lifting. These types of injuries generally lead to inflammation, pain, and reduced functional capacity.
Workers at High Risk for RSIs
“RSIs are one of the fastest growing workplace injuries, and can result any time there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the human body,” explains OSHA.
Workers at risk for developing RSIs include construction workers and manufacturing workers. Many construction workers are subjected to risk factors on a daily basis, such as doing heavy lifting, reaching overhead, performing the same tasks over and over, and using vibrating machinery. Likewise, those in manufacturing may repeat the same tasks again and again on a factory assembly line, lift heavy items, and constantly sit or reach in awkward positions.
Other workers at risk for developing RSIs include the following.
- Those who work with computers, e.g., office workers, computer programmers, web developers, etc.
- Warehouse workers
- Farm workers
- Manual laborers
- Utility workers
- Bus drivers and other transportation workers
- Food service workers
- Custodians and housekeepers
Common Types of Repetitive Stress Injuries
RSIs can range from mild to debilitating and can affect numerous parts of the body, such as the hands, wrists, knees, back, and neck. Symptoms may begin with weakness, trembling, and pain in the area. As the condition progresses, it can result in numbness, loss of motor function, and crippling pain. This can make it nearly – if not totally – impossible to perform job tasks.
Some of the specific types of RSI conditions that can develop from work-related tasks include the following:
- Rotator cuff injuries
- De Quervain's tenosynovitis (pain in thumb)
- Radial tunnel syndrome
- Torn ACLs and MCLs
- Epicondylitis (tennis elbow)
- Trigger finger
- Impingement syndrome
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
Do you qualify for workers’ compensation for your RSI?
Iowa law provides that if you are an employee and you are either injured on the job or develop an illness or condition that’s related to your job, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
The tricky part about workers’ compensation claims that involve RSIs is proving that your condition is directly related to your job. When workers are injured in a sudden traumatic accident at work (e.g., a roofer falling from a ladder and sustaining a shoulder injury), it’s easy to prove that the injury is work related because there’s a definitive event that caused it. With RSIs on the other hand, it can be challenging to validate the cause because they are gradual onset conditions.
Proving Your RSI Workers’ Compensation Claim
How do you prove that your repetitive stress disorder/condition was caused by your job duties? You will need to see a doctor. When you go for your exam, be very specific about your symptoms, when you started developing them, and what your job duties are. (Not seeing a doctor and not revealing all the symptoms you’re experiencing are two of the seven mistakes we discuss in our free workers’ compensation report.)
But keep in mind the employer or its insurer will choose the doctor you see. If you are not satisfied with the doctor’s diagnosis or impairment rating, you are entitled to seek a second opinion under Iowa Code Section 85.39. Note, you do not have to pay for the exam out of pocket; your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer is responsible for the cost of the second opinion.
Insurers often refute RSI claims by using the argument that the condition was not work related or that the condition was pre-existing. For example, if a laborer who had a long history of knee issues filed for workers’ compensation benefits after his new job laying tile caused him to develop bursitis of the knee, the insurer may try to use his medical history and pre-existing injuries as an excuse to deny the claim.
Fortunately, Iowa statutes provide that although pre-existing conditions don’t in and of themselves qualify you for workers’ compensation, if your work duties aggravated, accelerated, or worsened your condition, you can still qualify for benefits. A workers’ compensation lawyer will be able to help you gather the evidence necessary to support your claim.
Impairment Ratings and Repetitive Stress Injuries
Some RSIs cause permanent disability. After the doctor has assessed your condition, s/he will assign you an impairment rating, which will be used to calculate your disability benefits. You will receive an impairment rating on a scale of zero to 100. A zero impairment means you’re not impaired, whereas a 100 percent rating means you’re totally disabled.
The state of Iowa also provides an injury schedule that lists certain body parts along with the associated number of weeks a worker will be due disability benefits. For instance, the schedule provides that if you totally lose the function of your hand, you will be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits for 190 weeks.
Your impairment rating is very important here because it will be used as a multiplier to calculate the duration of permanent partial disability benefits. If the doctor assigned you a 20 percent disability rating for lost function of your hand (190 eligible weeks of disability) due to your RSI, you will qualify for disability benefits for 38 weeks (20 percent of 190 weeks is 38).
Our Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Can Fight for Your Benefits
Our team at Walker, Billingsley & Bair in Des Moines has a passion for helping injured workers in Iowa secure the benefits they need and deserve when they’ve been hurt on the job. If you have sustained a repetitive stress injury resulting from your job, give us a call. Our attorneys can help prove the existence and extent of your injury, that it’s work related, and that it deserves a certain impairment rating. We can also help with other issues that arise throughout the claims process.