A Handy Guide To Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & Workers’ Compensation

It’s very easy to take one’s hands for granted. Without a thought, we use these appendages in nearly every single task that takes place on any given day. But when the use of the thumbs and fingers becomes difficult due to a medical condition, life also becomes very difficult. No one understands this better than a worker who is diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Facts About Carpal Tunnel

This syndrome, which is caused by pressure on the median nerve which runs through a small space called the carpal tunnel in the wrist, causes:

  • numbnesswrist and fingers with numbness and pain
  • pain
  • tingling
  • weakness

While it is true that medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or diabetes can cause carpal tunnel, the overwhelming majority of cases are diagnosed as work-related. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor called carpal tunnel syndrome the “chief occupational hazard of the 90’s”.

How Can Work Cause Carpal Tunnel?

Anyone who works in an industry that requires them to make the same hand and wrist motions over and over again can sustain trauma to this area of the body. It is this repetitive motion injury that typically causes carpal tunnel.

The most common repetitive motions on the job include:

  • typing
  • playing a musical instrumenttyping which is a repetative motion
  • sewing
  • operating a cash register
  • Painting
  • cutting hair
  • scrubbing
  • using hand tools
  • assembling parts on an assembly line

Additionally, some cases are linked to a fracture or crush injury that was caused by an accident on the job.

Today, more than 8 million Americans have been diagnosed with this condition and, while many cannot agree on whether this is a work-related injury or illness, the fact is that nearly two-thirds of all patients suffering from a work-related medical condition have carpal tunnel.

Potential Treatments

Whenever a patient describes the symptoms of carpal tunnel to a doctor, it is often recommended that they undergo a physical exam, a review of their medical and work history, nerve testing, x-rays, an ultrasound of the arm, wrist, and hand, bloodwork, and even an MRI. This way, doctors can rule out other medical conditions which may be also causing and issue and then determine the best course of treatment. Patients may see several doctors, including a General Practitioner, Orthopedic Surgeon, Rheumatologist, or Neurologist. Frequently, treatments include:

A Brace

Wearing a splint or brace on the wrist can help encourage the correct movement and provide support to the wrist.

Pain Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, are taken to reduce inflammation and reduce pain. If the pain continues, patients may opt to have a doctor inject a corticosteroid into the area.

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist who can manipulate the muscle, teach the patient correct way to position their body to offer relief, and teach muscle strengthening exercises is typically recommended.

Surgery

There are two surgeries that are available for patients:

  1. Open carpal tunnel release: Although this may leave a scar and patients have limited use during the long recovery period, the chances of complications occurring are less.
  2. Endoscopic carpal tunnel release: As with any endoscopic surgery, the recovery time is much faster than with an open surgery and there is less scarring. However, this surgery has a higher chance of failing.

Complications may include loss of strength, scar discomfort, infection, and nerve damage.

Almost 60% of all surgeries fail and the patient’s symptoms return. In addition to this, only about 25% of all workers who have the surgery are able to return to their previous profession.

How Workers’ Compensation Can Help

As many New Yorkers are aware, workers’ compensation insurance can help a worker who has been injured or become ill due to their job by covering the cost of medical bills and a fraction of the wages they would have earned while recovering. However, with carpal tunnel, the problem that many face is proving that the duties they perform every day caused the condition.physical therapist working on patient with carpal tunnel

The best way to get the compensation needed from the very beginning is to consult with a workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney can review your work history, medical records, and assist a client with finding a medical professional who can testify to the cause of the carpal tunnel. In addition to this, they can speak with insurance companies on the client’s behalf, assist with paperwork, and also identify any other methods of obtaining compensation.

Social Security Disability

As previously stated, only a quarter of all workers who have carpal tunnel surgery are able to return to the profession they previously enjoyed. But how are these who are unable to return to work supposed to survive financially? The answer may be social security disability.

This program assists New Yorkers who need help paying for their every day needs but it isn’t easy to obtain the benefits. To find out if you qualify and to begin the process of applying, contact an attorney has soon as possible.

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