Workers' Compensation, Arthritis and Degenerative Disc Disease

When a work injury aggravates, reactivates or accelerates your arthritis or degenerative disc disease, you have a right to file for workers' compensation benefits. There is considerable misunderstanding concerning the right of an employee to obtain these benefits for an aggravation of a preexisting injury, particularly as it relates to arthritis and degenerative disc disease.


The term arthritis specifically means joint inflammation. It is used generally to explain many different types of rheumatic conditions that affect a person's joints, tissue that surrounds the joint and connective joint tissue. Common types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or lupus)

Symptoms of arthritis can vary and the onslaught can be gradual or sudden. Most commonly, symptoms include stiffness, swelling, redness, pain around one or more joint (i.e. knees, wrists, hands, hips and shoulders) and limitation of the function of surrounding and supportive body structures.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is a widespread condition that can lead to serious lower back and neck pain. Almost everyone experiences this medical condition, simply because a person's spinal discs degenerate and lose the ability to absorb shock naturally over time. An injury to the disc can accelerate and aggravate degenerative disc disease. Most often degenerative disc disease pain occurs not from the condition itself, but because a person's suffers another injury to the back or neck.

Degenerative disc disease is not actually classified as a disease, but a medical condition caused by a damaged disc in the spine. Such damage can include a slipped disc, ruptured disc or herniated disc, or a tear in the outer core of the disc.

Work Injuries That May Lead to the Aggravation of These Conditions

Certain jobs make a person more susceptible to aggravating a preexisting condition like arthritis or degenerative disc disease. People are more susceptible to aggravating their arthritis, if they hold jobs that require them to perform repetitive motions, to endure high impact activities, or to remain sedentary for long. Examples of such jobs include, typing, assembly line work, construct work and other types of manual labor.

People are more likely to aggravate their degenerative disc disease when they work in manual labor jobs that require repeated heavy lifting, twisting and turning. Any job that can potentially lead to a back or neck injury can aggravate degenerative disc disease.

Workers' Compensation in General

Workers' compensation laws require employers to carry insurance policies that cover employees' work-related injuries. Workers' compensation coverage is usually available regardless of employer culpability or the employee's prior physical condition. Injuries aggravated, accelerated or reactivated by the work injury are compensable under workers compensation.

The basic legal eligibility requirements for any workers' compensation claim are:

  • That an employee suffers a work-related physical or mental injury
  • That the resulting disability prevents the employee from working
  • That the employee provide notice to an employer within the statutorily required period

Aggravation of Arthritis and Degenerative Disc Disease and Workers' Compensation

When seeking workers' compensation benefits for the aggravation of a preexisting condition like arthritis or degenerative disc disease, it is important to understand that these conditions are covered. These are compensable regardless of whether the preexisting condition was work-related.

Workers' compensation covers work-related injuries that aggravate a preexisting condition even if that condition made the person more susceptible to future injury. When claiming compensation for an aggravation of a preexisting condition, a person must simply show that the aggravation of the injury was work related and the resulting disability prevented them from working.

The requirement that the disability resulted from a new injury does mean that a person cannot claim compensation for a disability that resulted from the natural progression of a preexisting injury. The new work-related injury need not be the exclusive cause of the disability, but it must be a material factor in the aggravation of the preexisting injury.

Contact an Experienced Lawyer to Discuss the Aggravation of Your Arthritis or Degenerative Disc Disease

Given the time limitations surrounding the filing of a workers' compensation claim against your employer, it is important to act promptly. Speak to an experienced attorney about how an aggravation of your preexisting injury will affect your workers' compensation claim.