Repetitive Motion Injuries and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Repetitive motion injuries are No. 1 when it comes to workplace injuries and occupational health costs in the U.S. The cost to workers’ compensation programs is about $20 billion a year; the physical cost is incalculable.
Nearly two-thirds of these injuries are from gradually inflicted trauma to the upper body, with carpal tunnel syndrome being a dominant example. These are muscle-bone problems affecting almost 10 percent of the population.
If you are suffering from carpal tunnel or another job-related repetitive motion injury, you need to learn about your rights to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits could cover the costs of medical treatment as well as a portion of your lost wages if you have to miss time from work to heal. Schedule a free consultation with the Kenton Koszdin Law Office today to discuss how we can help.
Common Causes of Repetitive Motion Injuries
Repetitive motion injuries (RMI) are problems with tendons, ligaments, other soft tissue, nerves, and the neurovascular system, and work is often the cause. In the workplace, these injuries result from:
- Doing the same thing hundreds of times a day without adequate intervening periods of rest, especially when the motions are stressful and awkward
- Poor, sustained posture that stresses the body
- Repeated forceful movements, even something as simple as pinching something with your fingers or bending at the waist
- Frequent and difficult lifting, especially in a poorly designed work environment
- Working with poorly designed tools
Common Types of Repetitive Motion Injuries
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most familiar RMI, and it racks up the greatest number of lost workdays attributed to workplace injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm, is pinched. The results are varying levels of numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand and wrist that sometimes extends to the entire arm.
Tendinitis, another common RMI, involves inflammation of a tendon, which is soft tissue that connects muscle to bone. Characteristics of tendinitis include:
- Commonly afflicted areas are shoulders, biceps, and elbows.
- Men are slightly more prone to these injuries.
- Inflammation usually originates where the tendon attaches to bone.
- Tendons run through a lubricating sheath at the point where they meet bone. That sheath also is subject to inflammation, a condition called tenosynovitis that is almost identical in cause, effect, and treatment to tendinitis.
Bursitis is the inflammation of bursae, which are small fluid-filled sacs where tendon meets bone. Bursae are one of the body’s ways of easing the shock and friction of motion. Characteristics of bursitis include:
- Commonly afflicted areas of the body are elbows, knees, and hips.
- Bursitis can be characterized as traumatic, infectious, or gouty.
- Traumatic bursitis is an RMI.
- Traumatic bursitis typically afflicts people younger than 35.
Repetitive motion injuries in the back are strains (the stretching or tearing of tendons and/or muscle and other soft tissue) and sprains (the stretching or tearing of ligaments and soft tissue). RMIs also can produce bulging or ruptured discs in the spine that can yield mild to severe nerve damage.
Less familiar RMIs include:
- Cubital tunnel syndrome: This causes pain, paralysis, and/or numbness in the fingers that can advance up the arm. Like carpal tunnel, it is a byproduct of a pinched nerve.
- Dupuytren’s contracture: People with this condition can’t full straighten their fingers. The genesis is accumulation of scar tissue under the skin that interferes with tendons’ mobility.
- Epicondylitis: This is the formal name for golfer’s/tennis elbow. It is caused by inflammation of tendons from repeated strain on forearm muscles.
- Ganglion cyst: These are common RMIs. The cyst forms when joint tissue is inflamed, swells, and retains fluid. These appear on the wrist or fingers, are deemed innocuous, and are not tumors. They can grow, but they also typically disappear over time.
- Diffuse RMI: This is a relatively new diagnosis that essentially is a blanket term for RMIs afflicting a number of body parts.
If you are in the process of developing or have a full-blown work-related RMI, there are telltale signs. The ultimate red flag is the failure of symptoms to disappear once you stopped doing whatever produced the injury.
Symptoms of Repetitive Motion Injuries
The highest-flying red flag that RMIs raise is persistent pain that can range from mild to crippling. This pain can reduce mobility and keep you from doing your job. It can also make sleeping problematic.
With the most prevalent RMI, carpal tunnel, a gradual onset of symptoms is common. Symptoms usually appear first at night. They begin appearing during the day as the condition worsens. Symptoms may include:
- Frequent burning, tingling, or itching numbness in the palm and fingers
- A swollen feeling in the fingers, despite no swelling present
- A weaker grip and difficulty gripping small objects
- Difficulty making a fist
RMI symptoms from other common injuries are:
- Tendinitis: Pain at the injury site is the most common complaint. The inflammation of the tendon also can make the skin there red and warm.
- Biceps: The spot where arm meets shoulder typically is the most painful. If you bend your elbow 90 degrees with your palm down and it hurts to turn your palm up while pressing against it, you may have an RMI.
- Golfer’s elbow: The pain in the elbow worsens when the wrist is flexed forward as in a golf swing.
- Tennis elbow: Pain in the bony knob of the elbow is the most telling sign. It can radiate throughout the arm. Doing things with your hand can be painful, too.
- Rotator cuff: Lifting your arm from the side up will trigger pain in the shoulder.
- Bursitis: Expect pain and tenderness and decreased range of motion. Redness, swelling, and a crunchy feeling in the skin over the joint also occur.
- Knee: Swelling over the lower knee is common, along with the joint being warm to the touch and red. Pain can affect range of motion.
- Hip: Walking can boost the pain. Lying on the injured hip also can hurt. Moving the leg up from the side can reproduce the pain.
Call the doctor if moving your arms or legs hurts; if there is redness, swelling, or warmth at the injury site; if you are losing sleep; or if you are having trouble with everyday tasks. Head to your doctor’s office or an emergency room immediately if you have pain in combination with vomiting, nausea, fever, or chills.
Treatments for Repetitive Motion Injuries
Depending on how soon you detect the injury and how soon you have it treated, RMIs can take a few weeks or more than a year to heal. Allow the injury to go untreated and you could be looking at permanent damage.
Some of the common treatments for repetitive motion or repetitive stress injuries include:
- Medication such as anti-inflammatory painkillers, muscle relaxants (even antidepressants), and sleeping aids
- Heat or cold applied via heat or ice packs
- Splints and elastic supports to partially immobilize the injured area and provide relief
- Physical therapy that features exercise
- Steroid injections if there is inflammation linked to a medical condition
- Surgery to repair soft tissue or nerve damage
The price paid by those suffering from these injuries isn’t just for medical care. For instance, the National Center for Health Statistics says almost half of carpal tunnel syndrome victims lose 31 or more workdays.
Talk to a Knowledgeable Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
If you are facing a tough fight against a workplace injury, turn to the compassionate legal team at the Kenton Koszdin Law Office. We can explain the process of filing for workers’ compensation and handle all the paperwork for you, including appealing a denied claim.
Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation, including a free in-home consultation if necessary.