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Repetitive Strain Injuries & Long-Term Disability Insurance

Nowadays, repetitive strain injuries are often associated with office work, such as extensive keyboard and mouse use. However, the problem predates the modern computer by quite a while. Conditions like “telegraphist’s cramp,” “glass arm,” and “washerwoman’s thumb” all emerged in medical literature by the early 20th century.

Repetitive strain injuries arise from the repetition of mundane physical tasks. The activities in question (typing, for example) might sound harmless, but the injuries can be painful, debilitating, and disabling. People with these kinds of disabilities often find themselves unable to work. If you’re in this situation, you may be able to access financial relief through monthly disability insurance benefits.

This post examines the relationship between repetitive strain injuries and long-term disability insurance.

What Are Repetitive Strain Injuries?

Also known as repetitive stress injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive strain injuries are a family of musculoskeletal conditions that occur in individuals repeating the same physical task frequently over extended periods. Activities that frequently cause repetitive strain injuries include:

  • Using a keyboard and mouse
  • Gripping tools, especially those that vibrate
  • Scanning groceries at a checkout
  • Working on an assembly line
  • Recreational or professional training for sports

Tendinitis is a common example of a condition caused by repetitive motion. It occurs when tendons become irritated or inflamed, resulting in pain, discomfort, or swelling, most often in the elbows, shoulders, heels, wrists, and knees. “Tennis elbow” is a well-known form of tendinitis which occurs due to repeated overloading of the arm and wrist; despite its name, it’s not limited to collegiate and professional sports players. Tennis elbow commonly affects painters, plumbers, butchers, and people in other professions involving extensive use of the arms.

Bursitis is another common type of repetitive motion injury. The condition occurs when a bursa sac (a bag of natural lubricant between tendons and bones) becomes inflamed. This can lead to pain, swelling, loss of mobility, and disability.

We often think of work-related injuries as coming from a single event, such as a machinery accident. However, repetitive strain injuries are some of the most common workplace injuries.

Repetitive Strain Injuries & Long-Term Disability Insurance

Repetitive stress injuries can be damaging enough to qualify as disabilities. However, objectively proving this disabling condition to insurance companies can sometimes be difficult. 

If you have a disability insurance policy, whether an individual or employer-purchased group policy, it will generally provide monthly benefits on the basis of your inability to perform the tasks associated with your occupation, after a specified waiting period is exhausted. 

Long-term disability insurance policies usually require you to wait 30, 60, 90, 180, or 365 days before monthly benefits begin. Depending on the policy and on your condition, monthly benefits may continue until you reach retirement age, or until your symptoms improve to a point at which you can resume full- or part-time work. Other policies only provide for payments for a limited period of time because of musculoskeletal limitations or caps in benefits for these conditions.

The specific provisions and requirements of your long-term disability insurance policy will also be relevant. For example, if you have “any occupation” coverage, your insurance company will evaluate whether you could work full- or part-time in another occupation for which you are trained, educated, or suited.

You should check your insurance policy to see what elimination periods apply and what definition of disability applies, along with any policy limitations or exclusions. 

Repetitive Strain Injuries & Short-Term Disability Insurance

While repetitive strain injuries can turn into chronic, long-term problems, some patients can fully or partially recover with proper treatment and rest. If you have short-term disability insurance coverage, or your employer purchased a short-term policy on your behalf, you may be entitled to compensation while you recover from your repetitive stress issue, pending your return to work.

Short-term disability insurance typically only covers 60% of your normal earnings, depending on the policy. There is also usually a limitation period before the commencement of disability payments. This is usually 7-14 days, but can be as long as a month. The majority of short-term disability policies offer between 7 and 365 days of coverage. Again, you should research your policy to see what specific terms apply to you and your disabling condition.

Workers’ Compensation & Repetitive Strain Injuries

If you do not have a suitable employer-provided or self-purchased short- or long-term disability insurance policy, you may still be able to access income replacement from workers’ compensation in the event of a repetitive stress injury.

The key consideration in workers’ compensation cases is whether the harm you suffered was as a result of your job. Remember, repetitive strain injuries do not come from single, isolated events, so causation can be difficult to establish. 

Insurance companies may attempt to withhold compensation by alleging claimants could have developed their condition from some lifestyle factor unrelated to their jobs. In order to assess the source of your injury, and prove it’s preventing you from participating fully in your work, you may need to undergo an independent medical examination before receiving workers’ compensation. 

Protecting Your Financial Interests After a Repetitive Strain Injury

One of the major difficulties with repetitive strain injuries is the fact that continued overuse will generally only make them worse. This means effective treatment plans necessarily involve time away from work. Unless you have some form of income replacement (such as monthly disability insurance benefits) to rely on, you may find yourself in a difficult situation after a repetitive strain injury diagnosis.

If you’re worried about whether your disability insurance policy will provide for you in the event of a repetitive strain injury, contact us today. If your employer or insurer has rejected your individual or group ERISA disability claim and you feel the rejection was unfair or unreasonable, comprehensive action is crucial. We’ll carry out a comprehensive initial review of your case for free, along with a free policy analysis.

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