A nurse’s herniated disc wasn’t the result of her work-related back injury and couldn’t be added to her claim, according to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
An independent medical examination revealed the herniated disc was due to a degenerative disease rather than the on-the-job injury, the court found.
She had two previous back injuries
Gretchen Johnston was a registered nurse working at Wheeling Hospital in West Virginia. On Feb. 7, 2019, Johnston injured her lower back lifting a patient’s legs while assisting them into bed.
Johnston suffered a previous compensable back injury on March 23, 2010, along with an acute lumbar sprain that was treated with physical therapy in late 2016, according to the West Virginia Supreme Court decision.
On the day following the Feb. 7, 2019, injury, Johnston went to see her chiropractor for severe low back pain. Two days later, she sought treatment at the hospital for left leg numbness and lower back pain. She was diagnosed with a herniated disc.
Workers’ compensation benefits were granted to Johnston for strain of the muscle, fascia, and tendon on February 21, 2019. Temporary total disability benefits were granted from February 13, 2019, through
February 20, 2019.
Herniation or protrusion?
Johnston continued to suffer from low back pain and her chiropractor advised her to see a neurologist who suggested pool therapy, which significantly reduced her low back pain.
On June 11, 2019, Johnston underwent an independent medical examination. The doctor, who felt the disc herniation wasn’t traumatic in nature, recommended continuing physical therapy and transitioning to a home exercise program. Further, the doctor found the herniated disc was actually a disc protrusion, which is typically the result of degeneration. Johnston’s past emergency department visits for lower back pain supported the idea that the recent problems were from degenerative disc disease progression, the doctor claimed.
Evidence doesn’t support compensable injury
Based on the independent medical examination, a claims adjustor denied adding the disc herniation to the claim. The Office of Judges affirmed the denial on Sept. 17, 2020, finding that the independent doctor’s report was the most reliable on record.
The West Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the reasoning of the Office of Judges and upheld the denial. It found that the “preponderance of the evidence indicates that Ms. Johnston did not develop a herniated L5-S1 disc as a result of the compensable injury.”