Carpal Tunnel & Workers’ Comp Claims: A Guide
You’ve felt the tell-tale pain and numbness in your wrists and fingers, causing you to give up certain activities or reach for the painkillers daily. You suspect you have carpal tunnel syndrome, and you believe your job is the cause of your condition.
If you can trace the development of your carpal tunnel syndrome to your employment, you may be entitled to have your treatment covered through workers’ compensation insurance.
However, getting carpal tunnel surgery, treatment, and recovery covered through workers’ compensation insurance is complex and can be a lengthy, frustrating process. Here’s what you need to know about carpal tunnel and workers’ compensation claims:
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel is a common orthopedic condition that can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand and arm. You can get carpal tunnel in just one wrist, or in both wrists at the same time.
This condition is caused by the median nerve, one of the major nerves of the hand, getting squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.
For most people, carpal tunnel syndrome does get worse over time. This makes early diagnosis and treatment important, as symptoms can be relieved at the early stage with less invasive measures, such as wearing wrist splints or simply avoiding certain activities that aggravate the condition.
What Are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can manifest differently in different people, but some of the common symptoms include:
- Numbness, tingling, burning, or pain in the hand and arm, mostly in the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers
- Occasional shock-like sensations that radiate to the thumb and index, middle, and ring fingers
- Pain or tingling that may travel up your forearm toward your shoulder
- Weakness or clumsiness in the affected hand, which can impact your ability to perform fine movements
- Dropping things due to weakness, numbness, or a loss of awareness of where your hand is in space
What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The compression of the median nerve occurs when the wrist, fingers, or hand are used for repetitive motions such as twisting, abnormal bending, or persistent striking, which all cause the ligament to become inflamed and press against the median nerve.
There are several things that can cause carpal tunnel disease, or underlying inflammation that leads to carpal tunnel disease, including:
- Thyroid problems
In many cases, carpal tunnel syndrome is considered an occupational condition, as people develop carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of repetitive tasks done at work. Some of the occupations more susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Computer or data entry workers
- Factory line assembly workers
- Professional drivers, including truck and bus drivers
Some hobbies or other recreational activities also can contribute to the development or worsening of carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Using hand tools
- Playing the piano or other instruments
- Cooking and baking
How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?
How your carpal tunnel syndrome is treated depends partially on how early you catch the condition.
If your condition is diagnosed early enough, you may be able to manage your condition with inexpensive, minimally invasive treatment measures. These can include:
- Bracing or splinting: Many people who suffer from carpal tunnel begin by wearing a brace or splint at night, helping them keep their wrists straight in their sleep and relieving the pressure on the nerves. Wearing a brace or splint during the day also can be helpful, especially when doing activities that can aggravate your pain such as typing or lifting.
- Painkillers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve pain and inflammation.
- Activity changes: You may find that your symptoms worsen when your hand and wrist are in the same position for too long, especially if your wrist is flexed or extended. If your job or recreational activities include things that cause your wrist pain, your doctor may recommend changing these activities to decrease your symptoms.
- Nerve gliding exercises: A doctor or physical therapist can provide instructions on exercises that may help the median nerve move more freely within the carpal tunnel.
- Steroid injections: Cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory, is injected directly into the carpal tunnel. While the injections can alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, their effects are only temporary and you may need follow-up injections.
For more severe or persistent carpal tunnel syndrome, surgery often is required to provide relief from symptoms and to allow the person to return to normal activities. The procedure, called carpal tunnel release, which aims to relieve pressure on the median nerve by cutting the ligament that forms the roof of the tunnel. This increases the tunnel’s size and gives it more room to move freely.
If surgery is required in your case, you likely have two options for carpal tunnel release:
- Open carpal tunnel release: This procedure is a traditional surgical procedure where the doctor makes a small incision in the palm of the hand in order to view your hand and wrist. Your doctor then divides the transverse carpal ligament to increase the size of the tunnel.
- Endoscopic carpal tunnel release: Endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery still requires small incisions – usually two incisions called portals – so a small camera (endoscope) can be inserted to see inside your hand and wrist. A special knife is then used to divide the ligament and widen the size of the tunnel.
Can I Get Workers’ Compensation for My Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you can tie your development of carpal tunnel syndrome to your job, such as a long time spent typing or welding parts on an assembly line, you may be entitled to compensation.
One thing that can be tricky when it comes to workers’ compensation claims for carpal tunnel syndrome is the gradual nature of most people’s symptoms. You may experience pain and tingling for weeks or even years before you ever seek medical attention, making it difficult to pinpoint the onset of symptoms.
Your workers’ compensation case begins when you notify your employer – preferably in writing – of your carpal tunnel and its link to your employment. When you do this, you need to provide an approximate date for when your symptoms started.
If your carpal tunnel syndrome can be linked to your employment conditions, you may be entitled to a variety of compensation, including:
- Lost wages
- Medical care
- Retraining for a new job
Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Because carpal tunnel syndrome can be a difficult condition to pin directly to your employment, it can be more difficult to gain the compensation you deserve for your condition.
An experienced workers’ compensation attorney, licensed in your state, can help you get the compensation you deserve for your carpal tunnel syndrome. Most workers’ compensation attorneys work on contingency, meaning you don’t pay them anything up front for their services. Instead, your attorney’s compensation comes out of your monetary award after your case is settled.
Get Representation for Carpal Tunnel Workers’ Comp Cases in Washington, D.C.
At Lopez Law Firm, we work hard to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries, whether they arise from a fall or come on slowly, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Our team of experienced professionals can guide you through the sometimes confusing process of workers’ compensation, getting you the help you need. Schedule a consultation today!