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Definition of Impairment

Impairment is a problem in the function of a body part. It is any functional or anatomic loss or abnormality that can be temporary or permanent. For workers' compensation, a temporary impairment means that a worker is not able to work during the period of time in which they are recovering from a work-related injury or illness. A permanent impairment is an impairment that lasts after an injured worker has reached what is known as maximum medical improvement from their injury or illness and is reasonably presumed as being permanent. The impact of a permanent impairment on an injured worker can range all the way from being a very mild impact to a life altering impact.

Specifically, in relation to workers' compensation, an impairment may be defined as:

  • A worker not being able to use their musculoskeletal system, such as their muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, bones or limbs at the level of use that they had before their work-related injury or illness; or,
  • A worker is not able to control their neurological functions, their spinal cord, peripheral nerves and brain at the level of use that they had prior to their work-related injury or illness.

Another thing to keep in mind is that impairment and disability are sometimes used interchangeably. However, impairment differs from disability in that impairment is the abnormality itself. Disability is the restriction that is brought about by the abnormality.

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