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Shoulder Work Injury in a Workers’ Compensation Claim – Workers Compensation Legal Blogs Posted by Tara Reck, Esq. – INJURY ATTORNEY

Shoulder Work Injury in a Workers’ Compensation Claim – Workers Compensation Legal Blogs Posted by Tara Reck, Esq.

Work accidents and workplace illnesses with shoulders are quite common. In fact, there are many ways that shoulder work injuries can occur. There are also many industrial disease processes that affect the shoulders. For example, when the job involves repetitive and heavy use of the arms and shoulders. As with many conditions in the L&I Claims Settings, the cause (or causes) of the shoulder problem often becomes an issue.

Shoulder sprain and shoulder strain in a compensation claim from L&I workers

Doctors sometimes diagnose a workplace injury as a sprain or strain. Essentially, these usually relate to soft tissue injuries. Soft tissues here are things like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These types of injuries are extremely common in the worker’s compensation ecosystem. Many work activities such as reaching overhead, lifting, pushing, and pulling cause sprains and strain on the shoulder. In my experience, medical providers don’t always define sprains and strains in the same way.

Some providers use the two terms synonymously. Sprains generally mean that bone tissue is damaged. In contrast, stress reflects damage to the muscles or tissues that attach a muscle to a bone. Sprains and strains can be the stretching, tearing, or fraying of soft tissue. Symptoms include pain, bruising, and swelling. Sprains and strains usually go away within weeks or a few months. Treatment is also conservative. For example, over-the-counter pain relievers, ice, heat, and physical therapy or massage therapy. A cortisone or steroid injection can also be an option to reduce pain and swelling.

Shoulder impact as a condition in an L&I claim

The shoulder impact occurs after soft tissues are trapped in the shoulder. Usually, pinching occurs during arm movement. The result is pain, swelling, and sometimes weakness. Overhead work can lead to shoulder injuries if you are entitled to compensation. Like sprains and strains, doctors often treat shoulder bumps conservatively. Often times, treatment can include physical therapy, home training, or injections.

Shoulder tear from work

There are different types of shoulder tears that can occur. The most common types of tears I see in the workers’ comp setting are rotator cuff tears and SLAP tears. Rotator cuff tears occur when a rotator cuff tendon breaks partially or completely. Partial cracks are more common. They can sometimes appear with no symptoms. However, when symptoms are present, they can include pain, stiffness, weakness, and difficulty moving the arm. Personally, in my experience, rotator cuff tears are very common in occupational accidents and in health care workers. Often, repetitive overhead work activities are the culprit. For care, doctors may recommend different treatment options depending on the severity of the tear. Treatment can be conservative, such as physical therapy or injections. In other cases, surgery may be considered if the tear is severe.

SLAP is the abbreviation for “Superior Labrum Anterior Posterior”. SLAP tears affect the labrum. The labrum surrounds the shoulder cavity. A SLAP tear is when the tear is in the upper part of the labrum. Here the crack extends backwards and forwards. Symptoms can include severe pain, popping, clicking, and difficulty sleeping. SLAP cracks can occur due to a sudden injury or develop over time. Occupational accidents that can cause a SLAP tear include heavy lifting, a blow on the shoulder, or a fall on an outstretched arm. Additionally, repetitive overhead work activities over a period of time can cause a SLAP rift. Medical providers usually treat SLAP tears conservatively – initially with physiotherapy and pain therapy. If conservative treatment fails, surgery may be required.

Frozen shoulder at work

Some refer to the frozen shoulder condition as “adhesive capsulitis”. People with this condition characterize it as a stiffness or inability to move the shoulder joint. It does this by thickening the shoulder capsule. In some cases, it comes from the development of tissue adhesion or scar tissue. Frozen shoulder usually starts with mild symptoms that progress gradually. Symptoms initially include general pain and severe pain when moving. Over time, the range of motion decreases.

With the decrease, patients usually report pain and difficulty in performing basic activities of daily living. However, if you receive adequate treatment, symptoms will go away and shoulder activity will return to normal. This can be done in a few months. Unfortunately, symptoms of a frozen shoulder can last for years. I usually see a frozen shoulder in cases of employee compensation claims following an acute workplace injury.

Shoulder arthritis and joint instability in workers’ compensation claims

In contrast to soft tissue injuries, arthritis results in significant wear and tear on the supporting tissue and cartilage in the shoulder. With significant cartilage loss, the bones in the shoulder joint can become unstable. In particular, instability refers to looseness in the shoulder joint, which is a ball and socket joint. Simply put, the ball begins to slide in the socket. Unfortunately, it can get completely out of whack at times.

It is important to understand that a sudden work injury that damages the shoulder tissues and ligaments can lead to traumatic instability. However, it is also common for instability to develop over time due to wear and tear. If the slip becomes too severe, treatment may include partial or full joint replacement surgery.

Shoulder injury and cause of damage in an employee compensation claim

The cause is usually a problem when more significant shoulder disease develops. After all, shoulders are an important joint in the human body. They tend to wear out over the years due to various daily activities. Therefore, unless a shoulder injury or condition is purely traumatic, it can be difficult to determine whether the work activity is contributing to it.

In general, if your work requires repetitive shoulder joint activity, especially overhead, there is a higher likelihood of a causal relationship between the work activity and the shoulder condition. If an occupational accident claimant has no shoulder discomfort before an occupational accident but becomes symptomatic after the occupational accident, then the law is likely to have a causal link.

Summary and closing comments

In summary, the subject of shoulder injuries is complex. We use our shoulders very often. There are many parts of the shoulder that can be damaged by accidents at work or activities in the workplace. In addition, there are a variety of shoulder diseases. In addition, one condition can cause or progress to another, and treatment usually begins conservatively.

For me it is important to monitor whether conservative treatment fails. It is also important to keep track of whether more severe conditions develop. In this case, you should seek assistance from your doctor or employee compensation lawyer. Why? Because you want to make sure the cause of the damage doesn’t become an obstacle to your L&I claim in Washington state.

Further information:

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Ms. Tara Reck is the executive L&I attorney at Reck Law – Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in Washington State. If you would like further information, please contact Ms. Reck via:
* Seattle | Bellevue | Mercer Island Office: (206) 395-6141
* Tacoma Office: (253) 999-9828
* Renton office: (425) 800-8195
* Port Orchard Office: (360) 876-4123
* Email:
* Your Workers’ Compensation blog at or their company website at

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