How many times must an injured worker in PA hear something like, “Why are you still out of work – it was just a bruise?” What is not widely understood is that a bruise, or a contusion, can, indeed, be a serious injury with very severe consequences. Recently, we saw an example of this in the sports world.
Tyler Lockett, a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL, suffered a bruised lower leg in a game on November 11, 2019. According to an article in the Washington Post, Mr. Lockett was hospitalized overnight as a result of the injury. In addition to causing pain and immobility, a bruise or contusion can also cause swelling. This swelling, when in a small area, such as a lower leg, can instigate “compartment syndrome.” According to the article, “Compartment syndrome is a rare but potentially dangerous condition in which pressure builds to extreme levels in a limb after it undergoes some sort of trauma, either from a big hit or simple exercise.”
On the website for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), it is reiterated that compartment syndrome can result from badly bruising a muscle, which we do often see in PA workers’ compensation cases. When this compartment syndrome is the result of acute trauma, it is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment is necessary to avoid permanent damage to muscle, nerve and tissue. There is no non-surgical treatment for compartment syndrome. Specifically, the treatment involved would be:
“Your doctor will make an incision and cut open the skin and fascia covering the affected compartment. This procedure is called a fasciotomy. Sometimes, the swelling can be severe enough that the skin incision cannot be closed immediately. The incision is surgically repaired when swelling subsides. Sometimes a skin graft is used.”
Note that the bruising or contusion can be severe even if there is no compartment syndrome. Mr. Lockett was hospitalized despite there not being compartment syndrome. So, the next time you see an injured worker with a bruise or contusion, take a moment to consider that this is not “just” a bruise or contusion, but an injury that can be significant.