Repetitive trauma injuries, or repetitive stress disorder injuries, are covered by workers’ compensation insurance in SC when the injury is caused by an employee’s work duties.
Employers and their insurance companies may attempt to deny coverage for repetitive stress injuries (they will attempt to deny coverage whenever possible for any type of injury), but your SC workers’ compensation lawyer can help you to establish coverage by gathering and presenting medical testimony that 1) you suffer from a repetitive trauma injury and 2) the injury was caused by your work duties and happened in the workplace.
Below, we will discuss:
- What a repetitive trauma injury is,
- Common types of repetitive stress disorders in the workplace,
- Professions that are at higher risk of repetitive stress injuries, and
- SC law that confirms repetitive trauma is compensable under SC workers’ compensation laws.
What is a Repetitive Trauma Injury?
We usually think of workplace injuries as a sudden event that injures a person – falling off a ladder, getting your hand caught in a machine, or a broken arm, for example.
Repetitive trauma injuries are different – they happen gradually, over time. Repetitive stress disorders develop because of repeated stress on a part of the body that results in injury. When that repeated stress is caused by someone’s work duties, like typing, bending over, twisting, lifting, or climbing stairs or ladders, it should be compensable under SC workers’ comp laws.
The Most Common Types of Repetitive Trauma in the Workplace
Although carpal tunnel syndrome is the one most people are familiar with, many different types of repetitive trauma injuries are caused by work conditions, all caused by repeated actions using the same body part causing damage to nerves, muscles, and tendons.
Common types of repetitive trauma injuries in the workplace include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the wrist, hand, fingers, or arm caused by repeated pressure on the “median nerve” which runs through the wrists into the hands.
- Bursitis – inflammation of a bursa sac. Bursa sacs are found in the elbows, knees, and hips and serve to cushion the area where tendons connect to a bone. Bursitis can result in pain, redness, swelling, and loss of the ordinary range of motion in the affected area.
- Tendonitis – inflammation of the tendon, often occurring in the shoulder, biceps, or elbow, tendonitis is also referred to as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, or rotator cuff pain.
- Myofascial pain syndrome – chronic pain caused by pressure on “trigger points” in the muscles that can cause persistent, deep, aching pain and knots in the muscle.
- Tenosynovitis – inflammation of the lubricating sheath that surrounds the tendon where the tendon connects to a bone.
- Cervical radiculopathy – also called a “pinched nerve,” this is caused by damage to the spinal column’s discs. A “herniated disc” can push out into the spinal canal, putting pressure on nerve roots and causing pain and weakness in the affected area. It can be caused by pulling, lifting, bending, or twisting movements.
Signs of a Repetitive Trauma Injury
Repetitive trauma injuries may affect the wrists, elbows, knees, shoulders, hands, feet, back, or hips. They tend to worsen over time, and, depending on the type of repetitive trauma injury suffered, the symptoms may include:
- Stiffness, or
- Weakness in the affected area.
Repetitive trauma injuries can result in permanent soft tissue damage in some cases and should be treated immediately.
Careers at High Risk for Repetitive Trauma Injuries
Any job that requires a person to perform the same task repeatedly with the same arm, hand, leg, or other body part can result in a repetitive stress injury. It doesn’t matter if the objects moved are heavy or lightweight – a stationary body position + repeated movement can result in a repetitive stress disorder.
Types of jobs that often require this type of repeated motion include:
- Offices – typing on a keyboard or filing documents, for example.
- Assembly line work in a factory.
- Machine operators.
- Physical therapy and massage work.
- Construction workers.
- Carpenters and roofers.
- Delivery drivers.
- Grocery store clerks.
- Stockers or packers.
- Tattoo artists.
Workers in any industry that requires repetitive movements of the limbs, carrying, lifting, use of vibrating tools, or regularly placing pressure on one muscle or joint are at a greater risk of repetitive trauma injuries in the workplace.
Repetitive Trauma Injuries are Covered by Workers’ Compensation in SC
Repetitive trauma injuries are covered by workers’ compensation insurance in SC – they are expressly covered in SC’s workers’ comp laws and the SC Supreme Court has confirmed that workers’ comp insurers must pay benefits for repetitive stress disorders caused by workplace conditions.
SC Code § 42-1-172 defines “repetitive trauma” as “an injury which is gradual in onset and caused by the cumulative effects of repetitive traumatic events,” and provides for workers’ comp coverage when the injury is connected to the employee’s job duties by medical evidence:
An injury is not considered a compensable repetitive trauma injury unless a commissioner makes a specific finding of fact by a preponderance of the evidence of a causal connection that is established by medical evidence between the repetitive activities that occurred while the employee was engaged in the regular duties of his employment and the injury.
Also, under SC Code § 42-1-160(F), a covered “accident” can be defined as “a series of events in employment, of a similar or like nature, occurring regularly, continuously, or at frequent intervals in the course of such employment, over extended periods of time,” when it results in a “compensable repetitive trauma pursuant to Section 42-1-172 or an occupational disease…”
In 2002, in Pee v. AVM, the SC Supreme Court confirmed that repetitive trauma injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are compensable under the SC Workers Compensation Act as an “accident by injury.”
If you have an on-the-job injury in SC, the Myrtle Beach Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Axelrod and Associates can help you to determine whether your injuries meet the definition of “injury” and “accident” under SC’s workers’ compensation laws, file your claim, gather and present your medical evidence, and file any necessary appeals.