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19 November 2014

Can I Sue For Repetitive Strain Injury?

Repetitive strain injury, overuse syndrome, repetitive motion disorder – the medical literature is filled with different names for a common problem: cumulative trauma disorders (CTD).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), repetitive strain injuries account for almost two-thirds of all occupational illnesses that are reported to employers. That number was released way back in 1996, but repetitive stress has only increased since then. It’s a serious, national problem, that’s been keeping hard-working men and women out of the workplace for far too long.

Repetitive Strain Injuries On The Construction Site

As demanding physical labor, it’s no surprise that repetitive strain injuries are particularly prevalent within the construction industry. So what are they, and is repetitive stress sufficient grounds for a lawsuit?

What Is A Repetitive Strain Injury?

Cumulative trauma disorders, or repetitive strain injuries, develop gradually over a long period of time. Repeated motions, or stresses, build up over the years, eventually causing debilitating pain and decreasing your ability to perform daily activities.

Every time you grip a nail gun’s handle, or lift a heavy object, strain is put on parts of your musculoskeletal system. Joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels; all the things that allow you to move and feel. In immediate terms, this motion may only cause minor damage, like light tearing of muscle fibers. But repeat the motion over and over, and those minor tears rip further, laying the groundwork for life-long disability.

Where Will I Feel It?

Repetitive stress usually affects the body’s “upper extremities”: hands, shoulder and neck. The most well-known example is carpal tunnel syndrome, in which one of the wrist’s most important nerves becomes painfully pinched, causing radiating pain that can be felt up the arm and down through the fingers.

In reality, many unexplained bodily pains can actually be chalked up to repetitive stress. Have a nagging pain or tightness in your neck? It may be due to the repeated motions that your job entails, like lifting or carrying heavy objects.

Here are some common symptoms of a cumulative trauma disorder:

  • Fatigue, lack of sustained strength
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the hands or forearm
  • Heaviness in the limbs
  • Loss of coordination
  • Unexplained coldness in the hands
  • Hypersensitivity: are you more aware of your hands than usual?

Why Is It Common In Construction?

Unfortunately, most of the required tasks on a jobsite can contribute to the development of a repetitive strain injury. Anything from repeatedly lifting objects to moving your body parts too quickly can result in cumulative trauma, as can standing with bad posture for long periods of time.

Trigger finger is a particularly common form of repetitive stress on construction sites. As its name suggests, trigger finger can be caused by repeatedly holding any tool with hard edges, or bending the finger frequently. What happens? Your index finger is controlled by a tendon, a bundle of fibers that connect your bones to your muscles. This tendon itself is surrounded by a “sheath.” Repetitive motion can make that sheath swell up, locking your tendon in place and causing mild to severe pain. Trigger finger is usually associated with workers who operate nail guns, drills, or caulk guns.

As we head into the winter months, it’s important to note that mechanical vibration, like from a jackhammer, is most dangerous in the cold. When you work, try to allow yourself adequate recovery time between repetitive tasks, so your body can rebuild its natural defenses.

What Should I Do If I Have Repetitive Strain Injury?

If you’ve noticed the symptoms of RSI in yourself, visit a doctor as soon as possible. Cumulative trauma disorders get worse the longer you let them develop, so prompt medical attention is key.

Most state workers compensation programs, including New York’s, prohibit workers from suing their employers, so repetitive strain injuries probably aren’t grounds for a lawsuit. RSI is now being recognized as a serious problem, and New York’s workers comp system usually recognizes it as a legitimate, occupationally-related illness. Filing a workers comp claim is probably the best way to go.