Engaging in work activities that require repeated use of some part of the body can result in overuse and eventually injury. Although repetitive motion injuries are not usually immediate and are established over a period of time, they can still be legitimate work-related injuries that trigger workers’ compensation benefits. However, convincing Iowa’s Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) that benefits should be paid for a repetitive motion injury requires specific medical evidence to establish both the existence of the injury and the extent of disability as a result.

What is a Repetitive Motion Injury?

A repetitive motion injury – also known as a repetitive strain injury or a repetitive stress injury – is damage done to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves when a body part is performing the same movements over and over for a period of time. Repetitive motion injuries are common and can cause temporary and permanent injuries.

Symptoms of a repetitive motion injury can include:

  • Discomfort/pain
  • Tingling/numbness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Heat or cold sensitivity

When Does a Repetitive Motion Injury Occur?

Repetitive motion injuries will usually occur over time. The repeated movement causes damage to the tissues, which initiates inflammation as an immune response. Chronic inflammation can be very damaging to the body and is linked to many major diseases and health problems. 

The following types of work-related activities are associated with repetitive motion injuries.

  • Typing or data entry
  • Assembly line work
  • Construction work
  • Lifting or carrying
  • Maintaining uncomfortable positions for long periods of time
  • Squeezing or gripping

The equipment being used and the temperature at the time the work is performed may contribute to a repetitive motion injury. Insufficient time to rest and allow for recovery can also make a repetitive motion injury more likely.  

Work Injuries that Qualify for Workers’ Compensation in Iowa

Iowa takes a very broad view when it comes to work-related injuries that can be covered by workers’ compensation. According to Iowa law, an injury eligible for workers’ compensation may include “any impairment of health, or a disease, that comes about because of a work-related trauma or exposure.” But an accident or unusual occurrence is not required to produce a compensable injury. 

Furthermore, workers’ compensation is available for the aggravation done to a pre-existing injury or condition as long as the aggravating injury can be shown to have occurred as a result of an employee’s work-related activities. 

Common Injuries Associated with Repetitive Motions

Injuries associated with repetitive motion activities are due to overuse without adequate time for recovery. The continued irritation of the affected area can cause permanent damage over time that can result in impaired function and restricted mobility. Some of the more common repetitive motion disorders are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – caused by compression of the median nerve passing through the carpal tunnel (wrist) to the hand
  • Bursitis – inflammation of the bursa sacks that act as cushions to bones, tendons, and muscles
  • Tendonitis – inflammation of tendons anywhere in the body
  • Epicondylitis – inflammation of the tendons surrounding the elbow
  • Ganglion cyst – fluid-filled lumps that develop along the tendons or joints of the wrist or hand
  • Tenosynovitis – inflammation of the tissue – sheath – around a tendon 
  • Trigger finger – inflammation affecting the tendon of a finger so it cannot straighten

Parts of the Body Most Affected by Repetitive Motion Injuries

Most repetitive motions performed in the workplace are done with the upper body, and most repetitive motion injuries occur in the arms and hands. Body parts commonly affected by repetitive motion injuries include:

  • Hands/fingers
  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Knees

Getting Workers’ Compensation Benefits for a Repetitive Motion Injury

An employee who contracts a repetitive motion injury while on the job is entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits in Iowa even if the current repetitive motion injury is an aggravation of a previous injury. 

The biggest issues that an employee will face when making a workers’ compensation claim for a repetitive motion injury are:

  • That an injury occurred
  • That the injury is work-related

An employee must prove that there has been an injury as opposed to some kind of natural change in the body that might also occur over time due to non-work circumstances. A medical examination and diagnostic imaging can identify symptoms more likely associated with a repetitive motion injury. 

Proving that a repetitive motion injury is related to a particular employment requires that a timeline be established showing the condition of the injured body part before going to work for the employer and then connecting the activities the employee performs for the employer with the current injury. 

What to Do When You Suffer a Repetitive Motion Injury at Work

Repetitive motion injuries can occur in any industry where repetitive motions cause strain on body parts over time. Someone who is experiencing symptoms and believes they are due to work-related activities should report their concerns to their employer as soon as they suspect their work duties are causing their injury. 

Reporting a suspected work injury promptly and then seeking medical treatment are important steps in establishing that a repetitive motion injury is work-related. A doctor’s examination and opinion often form the evidence necessary to support a workers’ compensation claim for the injury. A doctor will determine the cause of the injury, the extent of damage caused, and how an employee’s ability to go back to work may be affected. Medical evidence may also be necessary to rule out alternative causes for an employee’s symptoms.

Repetitive motion injuries are harder to prove than other work-related injuries because they can’t be easily seen and their impact on a person is somewhat subjective since two people performing the same work may be affected differently. A successful workers’ compensation claim relies on the ability to demonstrate it is more likely than not that an employee’s injury was caused by a repetitive motion performed on behalf of an employer. 

Even though these types of injuries are not as straightforward as those resulting from a one-time accident, the right legal guidance can ensure that all factors—such as the nature of the job, the worker’s medical history, and the specific demands of the work performed—are considered when building a case. Moreover, it is crucial to understand the nuances of what is covered under workers’ compensation and what is not. For workers forced to return to work prematurely or those facing the complexity of workers’ compensation appeals, a specialized attorney can be the difference between a denied claim and a successful resolution. This expertise extends to handling cases involving construction site injuries, which often involve a combination of repetitive strain and acute trauma.

If you were injured at work in Des Moines and need legal representation, a Des Moines workers’ compensation attorney can help. They have the experience and knowledge to handle your case and fight for your rights.

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