There are many common actions in the workplace, such as typing or clicking a mouse, that require fine hand movements that are repeated constantly in the workplace. But over time, these repetitive actions gradually cause strain to the muscles and tendons required to make these movements. This can lead to a decrease in the range of motion in those areas and result in discomfort or even pain. If this cycle continues, long-term physical issues are the unfortunate consequence.
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Often known as Repetitive Stress injuries (RSI), this type of workplace issue now accounts for approximately 60% of all employment-related injuries. What’s more, at some point in their career, one in eight American workers will be diagnosed with an RSI.
But RSIs do not target only the hands or wrists. Did you know that a poor sitting or standing posture can also lead to neck and back injuries? Also, staring at a computer screen for hours on end with little change can cause to eye strain. Finally, constant reaching for a mouse can exacerbate arm and neck strain.
What Kinds of Activity Can Cause RSIs?
Some common examples of workplace activities that can cause RSIs include:
- Computer, mouse, and keyboard use by office employees: This type of RSI involves injury to wrists, elbows, and hands due to repetitive keyboard activities. Considering the increasing reliance on computing devices to perform tasks, office workers spend many hours at a time dealing with computer data. Without proper ergonomics or sufficient time away from the computer, then RSIs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can develop.
- Bar code scanning: Grocery checkers tend to experience a higher incidence of RSI due to their need to scan bar codes on products. The basic action involves pulling or sliding products across a scanner hundreds of times every shift. This can lead to strain to the upper extremities. Additionally, turning the neck from side to side to scan and then input price data can also lead to an RSI of the neck or shoulders. Finally, constant lifting of heavier products may create back issues.
- Fixed-position tasks: Occupations that require employees to remain in a single position for long periods of time can lead to RSIs. Examples of such activities include prolonged standing or sitting, prolonged grasping or gripping, or remaining in a particular position for long periods. Related occupations include assembly line work, jack hammering, truck drivers, writers, butchers, professional musicians, registered massage therapists, mechanics, inventory stockers, and sanders.
While carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common, and most commonly known, RSI, there are other injuries that can be attributed to repetitive movement of the arms, shoulders, and wrists. These include:
- Trigger finger
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Spinal disc issues
- Ulnar nerve compression
- Raynaud's syndrome
- DeQuervain's disease
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
Does Workers Compensation Cover Repetitive Stress Injuries?
Anyone was has experienced experienced a repetitive stress injury due to work-related tasks may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. But there could be issues regarding such claims.
For instance, claimants will need to demonstrate that their RSI was indeed a result of their job. If someone has an office job and requires the use of a computer to complete their work, yet is also are an avid tennis player, that person will need to provide proof that their injury was due specifically to their office work and not because of their hobby. Likewise, if that person has a second job that also requires some repetitive actions, the employer’s insurance company will need proof that the RSI was a result of the first job and not the second one.
Claims for repetitive stress injuries can be difficult to prove because of the nature of the injury. They tend to accumulate over time instead of having one clear, defined accident.
Employees with a pre-existing condition may also be entitled to workers compensation benefits. The claim could be approved if the condition worsened or if a new related injury arose due to the nature of the repetitive work.
Illinois law requires employees who have experienced an RSI to notify their employers within 45 days of discovering the injury and realizing that it was related to their work. The employee should describe in as much detail as possible the symptoms of the RSI and their workplace tasks as a means of helping determine whether or not their job may have exacerbated the injury. Note that the statute of limitations for filing a claim in Illinois is three years from the day that the injury either took place or was discovered.
Obtaining the opinion of a medical professional can help establish the base of the claim, mitigate current issues, and possibly prevent future injuries from occurring again.