Repetitive Injuries Common in Patrol Officers

A police officer and his duty belt holding a radio, handcuffs, and a holster and pistol.

As you are aware, patrol officers spend large amounts of time performing duties within their cruiser and are required to wear duty belts and vests that cause a high prevalence of musculoskeletal problems over time. These repetitive type injuries occur as a result of the culmination of forces inflicted by the required equipment as well as both patrolling within the squad car and the frequent and repetitive nature of getting in and out of the squad car with the patrol equipment. While these injuries occur as a result of forces over time in combination with the physical nature of the job, they are equally accepted as compensable Minnesota Workers’ Compensation claims as if the injury had occurred in one specific acute event.

In Minnesota, under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the state legislature has recognized repetitive trauma injuries as being a compensable injury within the Minnesota state Workers’ Compensation system. In the case of Gillette v. Harold, Inc. the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that injuries that occur due to repetitive minute trauma brought about by the performance of ordinary job duties will be compensable workers’ compensation claims. These types of repetitive trauma injuries are also compensable where the underlying work activities aggravate or accelerate a previous work-related condition and/or other pre-existing condition to the extent where it requires medical treatment and/or results in disability including wage loss.

State Patrol officers are required to wear a duty belt that may weigh anywhere from 15-20 pounds to make a handgun, handcuffs, flashlights, gloves, baton, radio, pepper spray, among other tools instantly accessible to the officer. Additionally, officers may have to wear protective vests that have been shown to ergonomically create forces that impact both male and female officers. Given that the percentage of total body weight as compared to the equipment is typically higher for female officers it has corresponded to a higher rate of low back and pelvic musculoskeletal issues. Among female officers, it is also contemplated that the physiological differences in male and female officers, especially in the hip or pelvic region, shows that the problems persist at a higher rate amongst female officers.[1]

If you are experiencing pain in your shoulders, neck, low back, hips, knees, and/or tingling sensations in your hands it is likely you have sustained a repetitive type of injury due to the nature of your work. If this is the case, we strongly encourage you to follow-up with a doctor to evaluate your injuries. We have found that due to the nature of the work, the equipment used, and the equipment required to protect the public and protect the officers, these normal job duties can cause serious injuries including low back issues resulting in significant disc injuries in the lumbar spine. If these discs are damaged and further deteriorate it is possible that surgical intervention may be required to afford you symptom relief. This is equally true for other types of repetitive injuries that will likely not get better with time without some type of medical intervention.

We have also heard many stories from officers that have had prior injuries for which they indicate they had thought they had fully recovered. Over time and with the ongoing work activities and the need to carry the required equipment, these problems resurface and become worse. It is important to note that if your equipment or job exacerbates any underlying non-work-related injury, you may still have a compensable workers’ compensation claim. An injury is compensable when work-related activity aggravates or accelerates a pre-existing condition resulting in disability or need for medical treatment.[2]

If you are a patrol officer with pain in your neck, low back, hips, or upper extremities, you may have sustained a repetitive trauma work-related injury in the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation system. We encourage you to follow-up with a treating doctor and to contact our office with any questions you may have regarding these injuries. At Meuser, Yackley & Rowland, P.A. we have represented hundreds of patrol officers with low back, and other injuries that have resulted in the successful awarding in both workers’ compensation benefits, MSRS Duty Disability Benefits, and Healthcare Continuation Benefits under Minnesota Statute 299A.465.

Call us today to speak with an attorney regarding your potential workers’ compensation claim.

[1] The Effects of Police Duty Belt and Seat Design Changes on Lumbar Spine Posture, Driver Contact Pressure and Discomfort. M.W.R Holmes, C.D. McKinnon, C.R. Dickerson, J.P. Callaghan, Ergonomics Volume 56, 2003 Issue 1, May 12, accepted 08 OCT 2012, Published online: 12-NOV-2012

[2] Wallace v. Hanson Silo Co., 235 N.W. 2d 363 (Minn. 1975)