What’s the difference between acute and overuse workplace injuries to shoulders and knees?

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Overuse injuries to the shoulders and knees are common workplace occurrences, especially if the work is physically demanding. The level of pain and the treatment necessary for both joints vary widely, so it is important to have a clear understanding of the issue with which you are dealing and get appropriate medical attention. 

Injuries to these major joints fall into two categories: acute injuries and overuse injuries. 

Acute injuries

Acute injuries are those that occur suddenly, like from an impact or an accident. Acute injuries to the knees and shoulders could be caused by direct blows, falls, or abnormal twisting or bending. These types of injuries are the most common to the knees and shoulders. 

Acute injuries to the knee include: 
  • Sprained or strained ligaments or tendons (as discussed in my article on sprains and strains)
  • Torn meniscus, which cushions the knee joint
  • Torn ACL or MCL, which is the most common
  • Fracture
  • Dislocation, which could be very serious, requiring immediate medical attention 
Acute injuries to the shoulder include: 
  • Bruises (contusions)
  • Sprained or strained muscles, ligaments or tendons
  • Brachial Plexus Neuropathy (injured nerves)
  • Separation, which is when the ligaments connecting the clavicle (collarbone) to the acromion (shoulder blade) are torn
  • Torn rotator cuff, which is when one or more of the four tendons that cover the shoulder joint are damaged
  • Fracture
  • Subluxation or dislocation, which when the bones are pushed or pulled out of position 

The results of these injuries can include pain, bruising, swelling, and damaged or pinched blood vessels or nerves while possibly leaving the area weak, numb, cold, tingling, pale or blue. Clearly, even when the exact cause of the injury is known, there are many possible outcomes with an acute injury so a medical evaluation is essential. An injury left untreated can often lead to long-term complications.

Overuse injuries

The other type of knee and shoulder injury often associated with the workplace is that of overuse. Repetitive movements and prolonged stress can put too much pressure on the joints and surrounding tissue. In the case of overuse injuries there isn’t usually a single moment that you remember the injury happening as the symptoms come on gradually.

Overuse knee injuries include: 
  • Bursitis, which is inflammation of the small sacs of fluid that provide the knee with cushioning
  • Tendinitis or tendonosis, which is inflammation of or small tears in the tendons
  • Plica Syndrome is a thickening or folding of the ligaments
  • Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome causes pain in the front of the knee
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome is the inflammation of the tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh 
Overuse injuries of the shoulder include: 
  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis or tendonosis
  • Strained muscles
  • Frozen shoulder, which simply implies limited movement
  • Impingement Syndrome, which is related to bursitis and rotator cuff tendonitis 

These types of injuries present with a wide variety of symptoms and, similar to the acute injuries, require a professional medical diagnosis to ensure that they don’t remain as lingering issues. An evaluation generally consists of a physical examination coupled with an x-ray or MRI.  

Knee and shoulder injuries

The treatment can be as simple as rest or as serious as surgery, but regardless of severity, issues with these two major joints should not go unattended. If you aren’t sure if your knee or shoulder injury falls under the responsibility of your employer contact a knowledgeable Atlanta worker’s compensation lawyer today. Have a different type of injury?  Check out the different types of injuries that our practice handles for workers’ compensation clients.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.



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