Can you get workers’ compensation for occupational chronic pain and disability?
Chronic pain has a tremendous impact on our state’s workforce. According to the Industrial Commission of Arizona, over 100,000 workers in the state may be receiving medical treatment for chronic pain at any given time. While not all of these cases may be due to work-related injuries, there are many people who must endure prolonged pain as a result of accidents that occur while they are performing their work duties.
Chronic pain is not only debilitating for the injured workers who suffer from it, but also economically costly for employers. It’s estimated that workers’ compensation for chronic pain costs employers nearly $62 billion annually, not including the cost of absenteeism when workers feel too bad to come into work.
Fortunately, Arizona is one of only a handful of states in the country that provides lifetime medical benefits for on-the-job injuries.
Continue reading to learn more about what qualifies as chronic pain and how you can properly manage long-term discomfort, as well as when you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
What is chronic pain?
You can expect to have some degree of pain immediately after many different types of injuries—whether on the clock or not. However, most pain will eventually ease up and go away as you heal. Chronic pain, however, does not.
Chronic pain is defined as ongoing or recurrent pain that lasts longer than what is considered to be the usual course for a specific illness or injury. For some medical experts, pain may also be considered chronic if it lasts for longer than 3 to 6 months.
Proving that pain has become chronic typically involves creating a full medical history that documents when your injury occurred, the treatments that you have undergone and the impact that your discomfort has on your ability to work and enjoy your daily life.
What are common conditions that are linked to chronic pain?
Chronic pain at work can develop from a variety of occupational injuries. These are just a few of the most common examples of chronic pain in the workplace:
- Back injuries. People often strain their backs from heavy lifting, or they hurt their spine during a fall-related accident. Chronic back pain often occurs due to an injury in your spine such as a slipped disc. With chronic back pain, you may have discomfort in one specific area that gets worse with movement, or it could create generalized pain through your legs or neck due to the involvement of nerves.
- Repetitive stress injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome often comes to mind when people talk about chronic pain that is caused by repetitive stress. You can also develop painful symptoms that are associated with tendinitis and bursitis if your joints are put under a large amount of strain. Swelling, redness and stiffness are a few more symptoms that may accompany your chronic pain with this type of injury.
- Head injuries. If you’ve ever had a headache, then you can only imagine how detrimental it could be to experience them on a regular basis. Head injuries frequently lead to long-term symptoms that include severe headaches, dizziness and difficulty thinking that can occur for many months or years after the accident.
Is chronic pain a disability?
Chronic pain is considered a disability, but it is important to understand that a disability classification does not happen based upon your symptoms alone. Instead, chronic pain must be documented through medical evidence that could include lab tests, imaging results and a physician’s physical exam. Your physical evidence will also need to link your symptoms to the type of work that you do and the type of accident that you endured while performing your duties.
For example, a fall from a ladder that resulted in chronic back pain due to a documentable spinal injury could be considered a disability if you are unable to continue doing what you did before.
Is chronic pain covered by Arizona workers’ compensation laws?
Arizona workers suffering from chronic pain are eligible for workers’ compensation provided that they meet the eligibility guidelines. You will need to make sure to follow all of the guidelines that are set forth by your employer starting from the moment that the accident occurs.
For example, you will need to seek medical attention right away to determine the extent of your injuries and begin the process of documenting that they occurred at work. You will also need to notify your supervisor that the accident occurred and fill out the appropriate paperwork.
Injured workers frequently have to undergo a drug and alcohol test after reporting a workplace injury to make sure that they weren’t under the influence of any substances at the time of the accident. Completing each step of the process makes it more likely that your application for benefits for chronic pain won’t be denied.
How much compensation can you get for chronic pain?
While nobody can put a price tag on an individual’s prolonged pain and suffering, there are general guidelines in place to determine how much compensation a person can get for chronic pain. There is a wide gap between the varying amounts of benefits people receive based on the severity of your accident along with how long it is expected to take for you to recover.
Compensation for chronic pain can cover the costs of medical treatments such as professional counseling and medication. You may also receive compensation for lost work time.
Consulting with an Arizona workers’ comp attorney is the most effective way to begin calculating the costs for your long-term pain so that you receive proper compensation.
Questions and answers about compensation for a job-related accident, injury or illness in Arizona
How to effectively manage chronic pain in the workplace
Being able to continue to work not only helps you out financially, but also ensures that you can retain your self-esteem and sense of purpose. Properly managing chronic pain is an important and necessary step in this process. Some common medical treatments for chronic pain include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Chiropractic treatment
- Physical therapy
For your part, you can take steps to fully advocate for your needs such as asking your boss for more frequent breaks or an ergonomic workstation. Employers should also consider incorporating strategies such as encouraging better health habits through training and the provision of gym memberships or equipment. When everyone does their part, more Arizonans can enjoy less pain while they are at work.
Seek prompt medical care after an accident and follow your treatment plan to avoid or minimize chronic pain. When you find that your pain has become chronic, it may be necessary to work with an experienced lawyer who can help you demonstrate your need for compensation that covers your emotional and physical suffering, as well as long-term health treatments that allow you to feel your best each day.