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Pre-existing conditions and workers’ compensation: What to know

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2023 | Workers' Compensation

The vast majority of employees are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they suffer a work-related injury – but what happens if you have a pre-existing condition that somehow relates to your current claim?

When you have a prior condition that’s exacerbated or aggravated by your work activity, that situation is covered under workers’ comp. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they actually have different meanings in the workers’ comp system.

What is exacerbation?

In the context of a workers’ comp claim, exacerbation refers to a temporary worsening or “flare” of a pre-existing injury or condition due to a work-related incident or activity. For example, imagine that you are a warehouse worker who had a pre-existing back condition due to a little age-related arthritis. While periodically troublesome, you always managed the condition with medication and heating pads – until you were trying to one day move a heavy load and your pain intensified. You could barely move, and immediately sought medical attention.

Ultimately, you ended up needing a few weeks off work, some physical therapy and modified duties for a few more weeks once you got back to the job – but you ended up quickly returning to your previous baseline without additional permanent damage.

What is aggravation?

Aggravation, in contrast, refers to a permanent or long-term worsening of a pre-existing injury or condition due to a work-related incident. For example, imagine you are a factory worker who injured your shoulder some years ago. It does cause you a little pain, but it never particularly interfered with your job duties – until you slipped and fell on the factory floor, re-injuring that same shoulder. The fall left you with severe pain and a limited range of motion. Surgery was needed, but you were still left permanently unable to continue working.

If you have any pre-existing condition that could possibly be linked to your current work-related medical challenges don’t be surprised if your claim for workers’ compensation is initially denied on the basis of a pre-existing condition and the belief that your current harm isn’t work-related. This is where “exacerbation” and “aggravation” of prior conditions come into play. Seeking experienced legal guidance can help you assert your rights to the benefits you need and deserve.