Knee and Ankle Injuries at Work

The knee is the largest joint in the body, and because it’s also a load-bearing joint, knee injuries are painful and difficult to fully recover from. Workplace knee injuries can result from slip and falls, impacts with hard surfaces, repetitive motions, twisting or abnormal side to side movements, and unnatural turning or stopping.

Physical symptoms can include knee pain, stiffness, numbness, tingling, popping, swelling, limited range of motion, and sensitivity to pressure.

Ankle injuries most frequently occur when the ankle bone is twisted too far to one side or the other. This is referred to as inversion or eversion, depending on the direction the ankle moves. Common causes of workplace ankle injuries are overextension, slip and falls, twisting, jumping, and contact with hard surfaces.

Physical symptoms can include pain, bruising, swelling, tenderness, deformity, redness, difficulty walking, and inability to stand.

Jobs with the highest number of knee and ankle injuries are usually found in occupations where employees spend most of the workday on their feet, such as:

  • Construction workers
  • Nurses
  • Delivery persons
  • Auto mechanics
  • Waiters and waitresses
  • Loading dock workers
  • Professional athletes

What if You Suffer an On-the-job Knee or Ankle Injury?

On-the-job knee and ankle injuries are covered by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp benefits pay medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses (medications, bandages, etc.), and approximately two-thirds of your lost wages while you’re unable to work.

You must notify your employer as soon as reasonably possible after your injury. The workers’ comp claim process begins when you and your employer complete a first report of injury, or DWC-1 form. You report specific details about your injury on this form, including the date, time, cause, and nature of your injury.

Following your first report of injury, you must choose a primary physician from a list of company-approved doctors. Your primary physician evaluates your medical condition and the type of knee or ankle injury you sustained. After an initial diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to a specialist (such as an orthopedist, podiatrist, or chiropractor) for injury-specific treatment.

Your physician determines when you’ve reached a level of MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement) in your treatment. Once you reach MMI, your physician gives you a return to work form or DWC-8. The DWC-8 form specifies your return to work status and what type of work you can do.

If your physician determines your injury resulted in a temporary partial disability, you may be able to resume your former job duties after you recover. During that time, your employer may offer you a job that’s compatible with your disability, if one is available. If not, you may have to wait until you fully recover to resume working, or seek employment elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee your position will still be available. In most cases, employers are not required to keep an injured worker’s position open until the worker recovers.

If your knee or ankle injury is diagnosed as a permanent partial disability, you may be able to return to work, but not to your former job. Your employer may assign you to a position that accommodates your disability. When that’s not possible, you may have to look for employment somewhere else.

Not all companies have an employee manual, but if you work for one that does, it’s an excellent resource for rehiring practices after an on-the-job injury.

You can always consult with an attorney who specializes in workers’ comp claims. Most don’t charge for an initial office consultation. If an attorney accepts your case, you won’t pay any legal fees unless she succeeds in settling your claim, or wins a court hearing.

Treatment for Knee and Ankle Injuries

Most workplace knee and ankle injuries are strains or sprains to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. More serious injuries can include torn cartilage and fractures. In severe cases of torn ligaments or fractures, surgery may be necessary, but it should always be a last resort.

Commonly prescribed treatments include:

  • Resting, and keeping weight off the knee or ankle
  • Elevating the area of the injury to reduce swelling
  • Alternating ice and heat to reduce bruising and pain
  • Compression dressings to restrict unnecessary movement
  • Whirlpool treatment
  • Hot soaks

No one likes to be injured, and most people want to get back to work as soon as possible. Surviving on partial wages can be stressful. But failing to follow your physician’s orders, or returning to work before you’re ready can delay your recovery.

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