The term ‘repetitive stress injury’ covers a wide variety of conditions. A Repetitive stress or strain injury happens when too much stress is placed on a given body part and can result in pain, swelling, muscle strains and tissue damage. If your job involves performing the same task over and over, whether its data entry work, loading and unloading delivery trucks each day, stockings shelves or operating heavy equipment, you are at risk for a repetitive stress injury.

Are repetitive stress injuries real?   Worker’s compensation insurance companies certainly don’t want you to think so. I’ve had multiple workers’ compensation cases in which Insurance carriers have unsuccessfully denied that a repetitive stress injury was caused by work. In other cases, the carrier claimed that only the most extreme activities, such as operating a jack hammer eight hours a day or constantly slamming a button with the palm of your hand all day, could cause an injury. When a person performs the same activity over and over, it can lead to chronic conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tears of tendons and ligaments, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome.  This is the opinion set forth by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as well as respected medical institutions such from the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Think of a pitcher in Major League Baseball. A pitcher trains for years just to be able to perform the same throwing motion over and over. The career length of a pitcher depends on how long his shoulder and arm will hold up, specifically due to the repetitive throwing motion. It is now common for younger pitchers to have limits to the number of pitches they throw in a game and the total innings they can throw in a season.

Steven Strasburg, the pitching phenom for the Washington Nationals, probably won’t pitch much longer than August this year due to an innings limit. The team is worried about overloading his arm and shoulder and shortening his career. ( ) The Yankees most recently did this with Joba Chamberlain. Why are major league teams doing this, it’s not because they don’t care about ticket sales this year – in fact, they really do, teams are concerned with prolonging a career to insure ticket sales and success for years to come rather than a few games at the end of one season.  

Can you imagine if this happened at your job? If for instance, UPS shut workers down after 9 months to prolong their careers or a data entry employee being told not to type after a certain number of keystrokes in a given day – businesses won’t do this because it is not profitable, it’s unproductive and would be akin to admitting the repetitive nature of the work causes injuries.   

Whether a job is considered light duty or heavy duty is not the determining factor in whether you are at risk for a repetitive stress injury, it is the specific nature of the activity.  What usually differs between jobs is the type of injury. It is more common for a desk worker to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, the restriction of the carpal canal in the wrists, thereby pushing on the nerves, as opposed to a back injury or rotator cuff tear. While a worker engaged in heavy duty labor, such as mixing concrete or loading and unloading a delivery truck may be more susceptible to a chronic rotator cuff tear or disc herniation in the neck and back. An electrician who works with his hands all day could develop carpal tunnel syndrome while an office worker who constantly reaches overhead for files could develop neck or shoulder problems.  

The main thing to be aware of is that performing the same activity day in and day out can eventually cause serious physical problems. Because these injuries usually do not connect to one specific accident or injury, it can be hard for a worker to prove an insurance carrier should accept responsibility. Preventive measures such as proper ergonomics and exercise to strengthen affected body parts are very important, but these will not always help. If you have developed a repetitive stress injury, you should call me to discuss your specific situation or come in for a free consultation. 

James Creegan is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office concentrating his practice in Workers’ Compensation law. For questions, or to schedule a free consultaiton with Mr. Creegan, please contact him at: