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What is Workers’ Compensation?

Workers’ compensation or “workers’ comp” is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence. 

What is a Workers’ Compensation Orthopedic Injury?

Workers’ Compensation Orthopedic Injuries typically fall into two categories: Overuse Injuries or Acute Traumatic Injuries.

What are the most common hand and wrist workers’ compensation injuries?

Common hand and wrist overuse injuries can include tendon disorders such as lateral and medial epicondylitis (tennis or golfer’s elbow), nerve disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and post-traumatic or degenerative arthritis, among other injuries.

Examples of acute traumatic hand and wrist injuries can include tendon ruptures, rotator cuff tears, TFCC (triangular fibrocartilage complex) injuries, tendon lacerations, wrist, hand and finger fractures, as well as amputations.

What are some work-based activities that can lead to workers’ compensation cases for the hand and wrist?

Examples of on-the-job activities that may lead to overuse injuries can include repetitive heavy labor related work, managing vibratory or twisting tools, and desk based job duties over the course of an extended period, particularly if station ergonomics are not optimized.

Acute traumatic hand and wrist injuries that can lead to workers’ compensation cases tend to be accidental injuries such soft tissue lacerations, tendon ruptures and lacerations, fractures, crush injuries, and amputations that are a result of accidental trauma while at work.

What information is needed to diagnose an injury as workers’ compensation vs a normal injury?

Acute traumatic injuries are more clearly defined in workers’ compensation claims due to the nature of the injuries and their immediate presentation  while at work (e.g., broken bones, lacerations, amputations etc.)

Hand and wrist overuse injuries are more challenging to define:

  • Either a patient has had an underlying condition that was exacerbated by work-related activities.
  • Or a patient develops an overuse syndrome through performing the work-related activities required by the job. A diagnosis in this regard often requires a description of a patient’s work activities and daily tasks, to be able to determine if the symptoms experienced are directly correlated to or caused by the type of work being done.

It is important that a patient experiencing potential work-related overuse injuries be diagnosed sooner rather than later. As time passes it may become more difficult for a specialist to determine if a relationship exists between the onset of symptoms and the actual cause.

How does a patient file for workers’ compensation for hand or wrist injury?

Patients should report their injury to the Human Resources (HR) department of their employer. The HR department will then send the patient to a company preferred clinic for an injury diagnosis.

After an injury is diagnosed, patients may be sent to a specialist to obtain a more specific opinion on the diagnosis and to receive treatment.

Once a specialist is assigned to a patient for treatment, the injury can be deemed to be work-related.

The specialist’s role in workers’ compensation cases, besides treating the injury, includes completing return-to-work forms and providing an assessment and guidance about the duration of time a worker will need physical activity restrictions for optimal healing. They will also suggest the amount of time it will take for the patient to arrive at maximum medical improvement. Depending on the type of injury, this process can take several visits.

What are some of the most important things worker’s compensation patients should know relative to their hand wrist injury?

In the case of acute traumatic hand and wrist injuries, patients should take it upon themselves to seek medical attention immediately (i.e., ER visit) to diagnose the full scope of the injury. They can then begin treatment and potentially schedule specialist visits to avoid further pain and discomfort. This can help to mitigate any issues that might be caused by neglecting the injury, or assuming that the injury is not as serious as it may actually be.