Employers want to know how long an employee will be off work following a workers compensation injury. There are a lot of factors that go into the answer including the nature and extent of the injury, the employee’s age, the employee’s physical conditioning, and the overall state of the employee’s health.
The most common types of injuries are sprains and fractures. There are several factors that determine the disability period for sprains and fractures. The first factor to consider is the nature and extent of the injury. A moderate sprained ankle heals much quicker than a compound femur fracture. To get an idea of how extensive the medical provider considers a sprain, look for the adjective before the word sprain or strain.
The adjectives most commonly used with sprain and strains are:
- Slight – it happened, but there is not much to it.
- Moderate – more extensive than slight – middle range
- Severe – more extensive than moderate – really hurting
To understand how extensive a fracture is, again look for the adjectives the medical provider uses to describe.
Fractures are normally described as:
- Simple: it has cracked, but has not done anything more than a little bit of damage to the surrounding tissue
- Closed: basically the same as a simple fracture
- Compound: the bone has broken in more than one spot, or the fracture has created significant tissue damage
- Open compound: the broken bone is exposed through a wound in the skin
- Compression: in the vertebrae where a brittle bone, due to age or osteoporosis, has cracked
Other adjectives to describe fractures include (per Wikipedia):
- Complete fracture: A fracture in which bone fragments separate completely.
- Incomplete fracture: A fracture in which the bone fragments are still partially joined. In such cases, there is a crack in the osseous tissue that does not completely traverse the width of the bone.
- Linear fracture: A fracture that is parallel to the bone’s long axis.
- Transverse fracture: A fracture that is at a right angle to the bone’s long axis.
- Oblique fracture: A fracture that is diagonal to a bone’s long axis.
- Spiral fracture: A fracture where at least one part of the bone has been twisted.
- Comminuted fracture: A fracture in which the bone has broken into a number of pieces.
- Impacted fracture: A fracture caused when bone fragments are driven into each other.
Consider Age & Conditioning
In addition to the nature and extent of the injury, the employee’s age is a factor. A 25 year old employee with a simple fracture will heal more quickly than a 55 year old employee with the same injury.
The employee’s physical conditioning before the injury will play a significant factor in the employee’s disability recovery time. The 50 year old employee who runs in the Boston Marathon will recover from an injury faster than a 20 year old employee who spends all his free time in front of a video game monitor.
The overall state of an employee’s health will also impact the disability time. An employee with truncal obesity, diabetes, or other comorbidity issues will recover from an injury much slower than an employee who has the same injury, but no other on-going medical issues. Additionally, the non-smoker will recover from an injury faster than a smoker, all other factors being equal.
For more information, please see:
- ODG: Evidenceded Based Medical Treatment & Return to Work Guidelines
- AMA Guides™ to the Evaluation of Work Ability and Return to Work, Second Edition
Please note that all disability times are normal ranges, and the medical facts will determine the disability period. Hospitalization times vary greatly depending on the severity of the injury. The total disability time range is the expected length of time before the medical provider will allow the employee to return to light duty work. The partial disability time ranges is the approximate amount of time the employee should be in a light duty job.
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Author Michael Stack, Principal, Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their work comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
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Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.