Repetitive Motion, CTS and WC claims

Many workers must perform repetitive motions as part of their daily workflow. While we can see injury from repetitive motion in any joint that is used over and over, the most common type by far is when the condition occurs in the hand and wrist. This often results in a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS.

CTS is actually a nerve disorder caused by compression of the median nerves and other tendons that allow your fingers to flex. CTS begins as an inflammation and develops over time. The pain from this condition can be very debilitating. When the median nerve becomes compressed by a narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the wrist, the flexor tendons swell. This in turn causes the affected worker to experience pain, weakness and numbness of the hand and wrist.

Workers can also develop this condition when their hands are in positions of extreme flexion for a prolonged period of time, such as may occur when using a keyboard without proper ergonomics.

Some common types of work activities that have been linked to CTS include typing, using power tools or other types of small tools such as screwdrivers or ratchets, pulling/pressing or pushing objects, assembly work, handling objects on conveyor belts and manipulating vibrating objects. Some occupations associated with these types of work activity could include computer and data-entry workers, janitors, painters, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, tailors, craftsmen, factory assembly line workers and telecom outside-plant employees.

CTS or repetitive motion injury can be considered an occupational disease and as such can be covered under workers compensation insurance. But these claims are sometimes difficult to manage and prove, as they generally are a progressive type injury that develops over time and can often take months or even years before the worker begins to have any symptoms.

One of the biggest challenges is to verify that the condition was caused by a workplace activity instead of a nonwork activity. Many of an employee’s personal recreational activities may cause or aggravate this condition — sewing, crocheting, playing a musical instrument and many sports, for instance, that involve repetitive motions. There is also belief that this condition is caused or more prevalent when there are preexisting conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, pregnancy or a thyroid issue involved. For these reasons it becomes very important for a doctor to give the opinion that work, as opposed to other activities, was the primary cause of the injury.

In review of recent years of claims and loss data, the frequency of repetitive motion claims is relatively low. This may be an indication of increased knowledge, better training and use of ergonomically safe work equipment and environments.

While the claim occurrence tends to be low, these claims can be costly when surgery is indicated and the employees will lose some time from work while healing. Sometimes employees need surgery on both wrists, in which case the doctors usually do one, wait for it to heal and then do the other. There can be several weeks away from work. Milder cases might only require medication or splints, so we see these claims range widely in their cost, from a few hundred dollars in medical expense to large claims totaling thousands of dollars. The average cost is approximately $7,983.

Telcom Insurance Group has resources to help you address proper workplace ergonomics and prevention of repetitive motion exposure, along with a vast assortment of other topics to support your company’s risk management program and help you anticipate and prevent claims before they happen.

If you have any questions or need additional information for any claims matter, please visit the Telcom website,, or call 800-222-4664 and ask for Beckie, ext. 1081, or Marilyn, ext. 1085.