Shoulder pain from work can occur from a sudden traumatic incident, such as contact with a blunt force, or from repetitive use. Injuries can range from discomfort to debilitating, and greatly impede a worker’s range of motion and ability to perform job duties. If not treated and cared for properly – and sometimes if even if the worker receives the best treatment – a shoulder injury can have long-term implications and cause a worker to be more susceptible to re-injury.
Common Types of Shoulder Injuries
The shoulder provides an incredible range of motion. The joint is surrounded by tendons, muscles, and nerves that enable you to lift, rotate, and bend. Any of the body structures that comprise or surround the shoulder can become damaged. Sometimes, injuries can develop as a result of disease, such as arthritis. Other causes include motor vehicle accidents, sports, and work-related tasks and accidents.
Our firm handles workers’ compensation claims for injured workers across the state of Iowa. Below are some of the most common shoulder injuries that workers might suffer.
- Shoulder dislocation – A dislocation occurs when the head of the humorous (arm bone) becomes partially or fully disengaged from the socket. It can occur from incidents such as a slip and fall, or while lifting or throwing an object. People who’ve had a dislocated shoulder are more susceptible to repeat dislocations.
- Both partial and complete dislocations cause intense pain and can result in damage to ligaments, tendons, and nerves. Symptoms include unsteadiness, swelling, bruising, and weakness. Treatment involves popping the shoulder back into place, immobilization in a sling or brace for several weeks, rest, ice, and rehabilitative exercises.
- Rotator cuff tear – The rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that attach the humorous to the shoulder blade, and enable you to lift and rotate your arm. Damage to the rotator cuff tendons or muscles weakens your shoulders, can cause a crackling sensation when you move in certain directions, and makes it very painful to perform even the simplest of tasks.
- Rotator cuff tears are quite common, sending nearly 2 million people to the doctor in 2008, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Causes include repetitive stress and overuse from work-related tasks, common amongst workers such as painters and carpenters. Treatments include rest, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, steroids, and surgery.
- Shoulder bursitis – Shoulder bursitis occurs when the bursa (the fluid-filled sacs in your shoulder area that help reduce friction) become inflamed. It’s characterized by stiffness, loss of range of motion, and a gradual onset of pain that worsens when you lie on your shoulder or raise your arm above your head. It can be the result of a fall or traumatic incident, or by overuse of the shoulder joint.
- Shoulder impingement syndrome – Swelling in the rotator cuff causes pressure to build, which can affect blood flow in the shoulder joint. Shoulder impingement syndrome often occurs in conjunction with rotator cuff tendonitis or shoulder bursitis. Workers who repeatedly perform overhead motions are at high risk.
- Pain, loss of range of motion, difficulty reaching up, and weakness are all symptoms of a shoulder impingement. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medication and rest. It can take several weeks to heal. If not treated properly, the rotator cuff tendons can begin to thin and tear.
Do you qualify for workers’ compensation benefits?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a shoulder injury or are suffering from shoulder pain related to your job duties or that is the result of a work accident, you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance should pay for all of your medical bills, plus you might qualify for income replacement benefits if you cannot return to work, need to modify your job duties, or if the injury permanently affects you. There are various types of benefits available, depending on the severity of your injury and how incapacitating it is.
If, for example, you are suffering from a shoulder impingement and you cannot return to work at all for a period of time, you can qualify for temporary total disability. If you can return to work but need to take on a lesser-paying job to accommodate your injury, then temporary partial disability benefits may apply.
If your case is more severe, e.g., you sustained a serious rotator cuff tear that’s partially irreparable, and it’s caused a degree of permanent disability, you can qualify for permanent partial disability. Walker, Billingsley & Bair can explain in more detail exactly what benefits you’re entitled to receive.
Proving Your Shoulder Pain is Work-related
Qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits hinges upon one specific qualifier: whether or not your injury is related to your job. Insurers may dispute workers’ compensation claims for shoulder injuries by arguing that the injury is related to a previous non-work-related injury or that it has nothing to do with the claimant’s job at all. For example, an insurer may argue that you suffer from shoulder impingement syndrome because of a hobby that requires repetitive shoulder movement or overhead tasks.
In other situations, the company doctor or insurer may urge to you go back to work even before you’ve sufficiently healed. This is dangerous because attempting to do too much too soon can slow healing, lead to re-injury, and cause long-term complications.
As a claimant, it will be up to you to prove that your pain and injuries are caused by work-related tasks. This is generally accomplished through medical records and testimonies from medical professionals. When you visit the physician, explain that your injury was caused by an accident at work or, if your injuries are caused by repetitive use, explain your work tasks in detail. Your physician should be able to tell whether or not there’s a relationship between your shoulder condition and your job. You might need to obtain a second opinion to help substantiate your claim or obtain a more favorable impairment rating.
The Importance of Hiring an Attorney to Assist with Your Claim
If you wish to pursue workers’ compensation benefits for your shoulder injury, it’s highly advisable to consult an attorney before you file. These benefits can be a financial lifesaver when you’re hurt and unable to carry on at work. An attorney will be able to help you compile the necessary documentation to support your claim, walk you through the claims process, and assist you if your impairment rating is too low or the insurer denies you benefits.
Contact Walker, Billingsley & Bair in Des Moines for help. Call us today at 888-436-9979 to schedule a free consultation.