Are repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel truly serious?

For whatever reason, a lot of people don’t take repetitive stress injuries seriously. Maybe it’s because they’re harder to conceptualize than sudden, traumatizing injuries. Maybe people assume the slow degeneration of your bones, muscles and tendons is just a fact of life.

Workers’ compensation insurers routinely fight repetitive stress claims, even when they’re fully backed up by medical evidence. That doesn’t mean repetitive stress injuries don’t qualify for workers’ comp — they do. Sometimes it seems like insurers just deny them on principle.

What are repetitive stress injuries and how do they happen?

Most people have heard the term “carpal tunnel syndrome,” which is one example of a repetitive stress injury. There are many others, however, and they can affect many parts of the body. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the wrist, but people also commonly suffer repetitive strain to your knees, shoulder or back.

You might suffer a repetitive stress injury at work if your job requires you to perform the same physical motion over and over. Other factors can make the situation worse, including vibration and cold. As the Cleveland Clinic points out, a construction worker doing a repetitive task with a vibrating tool in freezing weather would be at pretty high risk for this type of injury.

Typical symptoms of repetitive stress injuries include pain, tingling, numbness, stiffness, swelling, weakness and temperature sensitivity. However, because the body’s bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments work in a highly coordinated way, the area affected by the symptoms might not actually be the injured area. For example, a number of conditions can cause pain, tingling and numbness in the hand, but not all of them are caused by hand trauma. Shoulder injuries, for example, may cause very similar symptoms.

Isn’t carpal tunnel syndrome caused by excessive computer keyboarding?

It was once widely assumed that excessive keyboarding caused carpal tunnel syndrome, but studies don’t bear that out. It turns out that carpal tunnel syndrome is relatively common across all types of jobs. Don’t assume your suffering isn’t job-related simply because you don’t sit at a desk.

If you’re suffering from pain, swelling, numbness or difficultly using your hands or any body part, see a doctor. Employers are legally required to help prevent repetitive stress injuries and, as long as you can demonstrate that your job duties caused or contributed to your injuries, workers’ comp is supposed to cover them.

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