Musculoskeletal injuries-damage to muscles, ligaments, bones, and tendons-unfortunately are some of the most common injuries in the contemporary American workplace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles records about these injuries and, year to year, finds that musculoskeletal disorders are the most common result of accidents on the job. For example, the records for 2010 show that musculoskeletal disorders “accounted for 30.5 percent of all injuries and illnesses involving days away from work and remain the biggest category of injury and illness.”
Pennsylvania Workers In Danger
As Pennsylvania workers’ compensation lawyers, we also track patterns of injuries and occupations. We keep detailed records about every client we represent. While it’s clear that any type of injury can happen at any particular workplace, we also recognize that each type of injury has its own unique incidence pattern. For muscle, joint, and bone damage, we have found these workers face some of the greatest dangers:
- Building trades workers. Homebuilders, roofers, and construction workers are all at risk from falls from heights, strains and sprains, and bone fractures due to heavy equipment. Carrying and lifting operations damage knees, backs, and the spine.
- Health care workers. The need to carry heavy equipment and lift patients under adverse conditions is the primary danger to health care workers in general, and nurses in particular. Back injuries are especially common among medical care personnel.
- Installers. Carrying heavy equipment and repeated upper-body pushing and pulling motions can be dangerous for cable, heating, and air conditioning installers and plumbers. Watch for shoulder and tendon injuries in this group.
- Office workers. The sedentary work habits of many cubicle and office workers can contribute to back pain and damage to the lower spine. Surprisingly, office workers also suffer a significant number of back, neck, and shoulder injuries from lifting tasks, as well as sprained joints and bone bruises from slip and fall injuries at work.
- Production workers. A hardhat and steel-toed boots aren’t enough to fully protect factory workers and machine operators from the hazards of the modern production line. Crushing injuries, falls, and muscle and bone damage after a limb is caught and pulled along a conveyor belt happen in factories every day.
- Union employees. It’s often forgotten that securing safer workplaces was a major force driving the early organized-labor movement. Schoolteachers, fire rescue and police responders, factory employees, tradesmen, kitchen workers, and members of dozens of other occupations face daily risks of catastrophic musculoskeletal disorders developing on the job. Local union officials can make sure the injured union member gets workers’ comp forms to fill out, but shop stewards cannot ensure the boss will honor the promise to provide benefits.
- Warehouse personnel. Forklift accidents, crushing injuries from falling merchandise, and especially strain injuries from lifting and loading goods inflict a terrible toll on the health of warehouse, distribution, and trucking workers. Back injuries are the most common results from improper bending and lifting practices, but permanent joint damage, neck injuries, and broken bones also abound.
The Injuries We Track
Muscle, bone, and joint injuries can range in intensity from a severe bruising on the leg to the searing pain of a dislocated shoulder. Here, our workers’ comp law firm reviews some of the hazards that may be lurking at your office or job site.
- Avulsion fractures. An avulsion fracture is a broken bone at a place where the bone attaches to a ligament or tendon. The tendon or ligament tugs away from the bone, pulling part of the bone out of alignment with the rest. If the bone fragments that remain attached to the tendon pull away too far, surgery may be required to restore function to the limb or the nearby joint.
- Fractured hands and fingers. There are 27 bones in the hand-and each one can potentially be broken by an injury at work. The most common way to fracture a finger or bone in the hand is by supporting a heavy weight, by trapping your hand in a door or between two massive objects, by careless use of power tools, or by reaching forward with your hand to brace yourself against a fall. About one in every ten fracture injuries is a fractured finger. Failure to treat this injury in a timely manner may mean permanent damage to your ability to grip or hold objects with that hand.
- Knee injuries. Bone and cartilage make up the solid elements of the knee joint, while ligaments and fluid within the joint allow the joint to flex while holding the leg together. Because components of the knee are so densely packed, little blood flows to the inner knee-and that means injuries behind the kneecap rarely heal on their own. Repetitive stress can damage the cartilage, causing inflammation and pain. A sudden twisting motion can injure the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that passes through the knee, making walking (or even standing without assistance) difficult or impossible.
- Neck and back injuries. Injuries along the spine are always serious, because the spinal bones (vertebrae) shield the spinal cord and allow the brain to communicate to distant points of the body. Sudden violent motion from a trip or bump at work can cause relatively minor neck and back injuries, including whiplash and muscle strains. Repetitive motion or trauma can contribute to herniated discs or pinched nerves. Falls from heights or accidents involving machinery or vehicles can crush the vertebrae and damage the spinal nerves, causing permanent paralysis or death.
- Rib fractures. In adults, the bones of the rib cage are quite sturdy, so any trauma sufficient to fracture a rib will inflict significant damage on the body as a whole. Vehicle accidents, falls, blunt trauma to the chest, and injuries from mechanical devices are among the most common causes-but lifting injuries have been known to break ribs, too. A cracked rib, although painful, is less serious than a true broken rib; in the latter case, a fragment of rib bone can damage blood vessels or puncture the lung or other internal organs. A life-threatening complication is flail chest, where several broken ribs detach from the inner wall of the chest; half of all patients die.
- Shoulder injuries. Lifting and carrying heavy or bulky items is the most common cause of shoulder injuries in the workplace. Poor carrying techniques-or even a load that slips at the wrong time-can tear muscle fibers or damage tendons and ligaments. Repetitive motions or lifting injuries have been identified as prime causes for rotator cuff injuries such as bursitis, tendonitis, and rotator cuff tears, any of which can significantly impair shoulder mobility. Repetitive motion is also responsible for some cases of frozen shoulder, in which the capsule of connective tissue that surrounds shoulder bones and tissues stiffens and tightens, making shoulder movement difficult and painful.
- Sprains and strains. Strains happen when muscles are pulled too far. Sprains occur at the joints, when ligaments-bands of connective tissue that bind bone to bone-are over-stretched or broken. Together, sprains and strains account for the majority of workplace musculoskeletal damage in the United States. Although they often involve similar levels of pain, sprains are usually the more serious injury and less likely to heal naturally. Surgery is often necessary for joint injuries, because the dense packing of bone and cartilage in a joint leaves little room for blood vessels to carry the body’s healing mechanisms to the injury site.
- Tendon injuries. Tendons are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to muscles. This allows the natural contraction of the muscle to flex the bone at a joint. A torn or severed tendon limits the ability to use the affected joint and may impair the ability to compete everyday tasks, as well as work tasks. Even inflammation of a tendon from overuse or repetitive stress-a condition called tendonitis or tendinitis-can disable a worker for weeks or months.
Getting Care For Your Musculoskeletal Injuries
If you have suffered a joint, muscle, or bone injury on the job, it is vital that you report the incident to your employer and seek immediate medical care. This is an emergency situation and prompt medical attention is essential.
Your medical bills for workplace injuries should be covered by Pennsylvania workers’ compensation benefits. Any out-of-pocket costs for medical care should be reimbursed, and-if you are disabled from working for more than a few days-you should receive partial payment for your lost wages. Depending on the severity of your injury and the treatment your doctor advises, you also may receive compensation for surgery, prescription drugs, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
These Are Benefits You Deserve Under State Law
If your employer or the insurance company refuses to provide the benefits you’re entitled to, call the Bulldog Lawyers toll-free at 866-462-8553 today. Jay Shor and Larry Levin are ready to stand up for workers whose benefits are being delayed, denied, or terminated too early. Their Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation are ready now to provide you with legal representation.