Does Your Doctor Know?

One of the most common injuries at work are muscle strains. They also are one of the most poorly understood medical problems when it comes to effective treatment. In fact, as many as 8 out of 10 graduates of medical schools "failed to demonstrate basic competency in musculoskeletal medicine," according to a 2006 study published by the American Osteopathic Association and updated in 2017.

Does your attending physician know how to heal your muscle strain or sprain? Maybe not.

Oregon’s workers' compensation system is tilted against muscle injuries because of our unusual "combined condition" law which allows employers to deny claims that involve arthritis. Given our aging workforce, the development of the degenerative joint disease is almost certain to affect older workers in laboring occupations. Even when there is a documented on-the-job accident, the question quickly becomes "but are you not healing because you have arthritis?"

Chances are high that your employer’s insurance company will hire a contract medical examiner to evaluate your claim if there is any hint that an arthritic condition is involved. We see a lot of these so-called "independent medical examination" reports, and in most of them the "expert" concludes with absolute conviction that the "muscle strain" has fully resolved simply because
3 to 6 months have passed – meaning that your unrelenting pain and disability no longer has anything to do with your accident at work.

Who will disagree with the IME? Your attending physician? Don’t count on it.

There are legal strategies to overcome a negative IME report, but those depend on supportive medical opinion. A doctor who can only say "I don’t know" doesn’t help much. Given the lack of effective medical education of the common sprain or strain, it’s no surprise when your physician just shrugs when you ask for their medical opinion – they simply don’t have one.

As attorneys, we counsel injured workers in the navigation of workers’ compensation laws. But when an attending physician refuses to help their patient (or feels incompetent to disagree with an IME) the chances for a successful claim quickly drop.

Injured workers need to be medical consumers. You have a right to ask your doctor pointed questions. If your physician is unwilling to explain your prognosis and recovery, maybe they never learned it in medical school.

~ Jim Edmunson

Seth Revoal