Each year hundreds of Iowans sustain work related shoulder injuries. Some make a good recovery while others develop what is called frozen shoulder syndrome. It is a condition where basically an injured worker loses range of motion in his/her shoulder. Sometimes it is caused by your arm being placed into a sling and other times it is due to the shoulder injury itself. Regardless, it can be a devastating injury for which there is limited treatment available. First, physical therapy will usually be recommended, which almost always involves you doing home exercises as well. Another treatment option the doctors may try is a called a manipulation under anesthesia where the doctor physically stretches and moves your shoulder while you are unconscious. The pain after such a procedure can be severe.
Frozen Shoulder Causes and Prognosis
Also known as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a stiffening of the shoulder joint. The shoulder is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue and synovial fluid that lubricates the joint. If the tissue thickens and stiffens, however, it can cause frozen shoulder. Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes the condition, although it often occurs after a period of immobilization after surgery or following a fracture.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, frozen shoulder happens in stages:
- Freezing: The joint gradually stiffens over a period of six weeks to nine months.
- Frozen: Once the joint is frozen, it becomes very difficult to move, even if the pain has subsided somewhat. This stage can last between four and six months, and performing chores and other tasks can be difficult.
- Thawing: Movement eventually returns to the joint, but the thawing stage can take between six months and two years where patients continue to feel pain and have limited movement as the condition improves gradually.
Doctors may use pain medications, cortisone injections and physical therapy to treat frozen shoulder. If these methods don't improve symptoms, the patient may opt for surgery. Surgeons can either force the shoulder to move while the patient is under anesthesia, which breaks up the joint and scar tissue or use small instruments to tear and remove scar tissue that prevents the joint from moving.
Challenges to Frozen Shoulder Claims
Like other claims for workers' comp, workers claiming frozen shoulder must establish it is work-related. Frozen shoulder might be a work-related injury if the employee suffered another injury that required immobilization, for example, which ultimately resulted in the condition. Proving that a frozen shoulder injury qualifies for workers' compensation can be difficult for some workers. Claimants can use medical records, physician testimony and other evidence to prove that their claim meets the standards for benefits.
Medical benefits cover all treatment and care costs related to the work injury. If another injury requires surgery, for example, workers' comp can cover those costs. If immobilization after surgery leads to frozen shoulder and another surgery is required, then workers may seek medical benefits for those costs as well. It's important to discuss making the connection between another injury and frozen shoulder with your attorney.
Meanwhile, workers may recover temporary disability benefits if they are unable to work (temporary total disability) or return to work in limited capacity and reduced wages (temporary partial disability). If they suffer permanent impairment, they may receive an impairment rating and receive permanent partial disability, which for industrial (unscheduled) disabilities like shoulder injuries, also accounts for several other factors in addition to impairment rating.
Walker, Billingsley & Bair protects injured workers' rights when they're pursuing workers' compensation benefits. We can help determine the benefits to which you're entitled and assist workers establishing a condition is work-related. Contact our office at (888) 435-9886 or contact us online.