Do you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome? Do you believe this syndrome was caused by your work? If so, you can likely file a workers’ compensation claim.
How can you claim workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome? As more and more employees use a keyboard and mouse at work, carpal tunnel syndrome is becoming increasingly common. Workers’ compensation may be the only way for you to receive compensation for your injury. If you plan on making a workers’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel syndrome, you should understand the workers’ compensation system in your state.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a stress injury that occurs when there’s pressure on your tendons and your median nerve, which travels through the passage in your arm known as the carpal tunnel as you flex your fingers. Because the carpal tunnel is narrow, swelling — even minor swelling — can compress the tendons and nerve.
Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome? If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Pain in your wrist and hand
- A tingling sensation that travels up your arm
- A shock-like feeling in your fingers
- Weakness in your hand that makes it difficult to hold things
- Numbness that tingles, itches or burns in your thumb and palm or in your middle and index fingers
An early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome is your fingers becoming numb a night because of the way you hold your hands while you’re sleeping. You may wake up with tingling and numbness in your hands. This numbness may travel up to your shoulder. While you’re awake, you may notice these symptoms when you’re driving, reading a book or doing another activity that requires bending your wrist.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Aside from overuse of the wrists and hands, other factors can also influence whether you may develop the condition of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as:
- Gender: Women are more likely to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome than men, likely because they have smaller carpal tunnels.
- Age: The risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome increases as you get older.
- Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant, fluid retention can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis can be a contributing factor to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Weight: An underactive thyroid gland can lead to weight gain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Trauma: Injuring your wrist can cause swelling and lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Disease: A tumor or cyst in the carpal tunnel can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, you may be at a higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome because of the effect diabetes has on your body’s nerves.
The above factors may increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Employees Affected by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What employees are affected by carpal tunnel syndrome? Employees who must repetitively use or overuse their wrists or hands are more likely to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome. You may be more likely to be affected by carpal tunnel syndrome if you perform the following workplace duties:
- Managing the cash register
- Typing on a keyboard
- Working an assembly line
- Repetitively pressing objects
- Performing construction tasks
- Repetitively pushing objects
- Driving motor vehicles
- Repetitively slicing objects
If you perform these duties for long hours without sufficient resting or breaks, this could result in carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly when you’re doing work in which your wrists are higher than your hands.
Professions at a higher risk include:
- Administrative workers
- Apparel manufacturers
- Cafeteria attendants
- Food processing workers
- Telephone operators
- Coffee shop attendants
- Electrical assembly workers
In the early stages of the condition, you might feel better if you shake your hands out, particularly if you are experiencing numbness. This may not continue to be effective at making you feel better, however.
Severe Cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What happens in severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome? As the condition worsens, you may experience more muscle cramping and pain and lose some of your grip strength as your hand muscles shrink.
Because your median nerve cannot function properly due to the surrounding pressure or irritation, you may experience these more severe symptoms:
- Reduced feeling in your fingers
- Slower nerve impulses
- Decreased ability to pinch with your thumb
- Diminished coordination and strength impacting your ability to hold objects
- Atrophy of the thumb’s base muscles
- Inability to determine between cold and hot by touch
If you develop carpal tunnel syndrome, you may want to seek out treatment, particularly if your symptoms are severe. Ideally, you should seek treatment before your symptoms become severe.
Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
To avoid dealing with permanent damage to your median nerve, you should seek a diagnosis from a physician as soon as possible. A physician may perform some of the following tests to determine your diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Physical exam: A physician will perform a physical exam of your arms, hands, fingers, neck and shoulders. This exam can help a physician determine what activities are related to your complaints, whether you have an underlying disorder and what similar conditions can be ruled out.
- Electromyogram: A physician will put an electrode into one of your muscles to measure the electrical activity.
- Imaging tests: A physician can look at your tissues and bones with X-rays and MRI exams. These tests can reveal arthritis, fractures, diabetes and other nerve-damaging diseases.
- Tinel test: During the Tinel test, a physician will tap over your median nerve to determine whether a tingling sensation is produced in your fingers.
- Ultrasound imaging: Through ultrasound imaging, your physician will be able to tell if your median nerve is an abnormal size.
Running these tests can help a doctor determine if you have carpal tunnel syndrome and what the next steps should be.
Treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
After being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, you should begin treatments as soon as possible. Treatments can be surgical or non-surgical, though surgical treatments are usually reserved for more severe carpal tunnel syndrome. Treatments include:
- Lifestyle changes: If a physician determines that your carpal tunnel is being caused by repetitive motion, they may recommend some lifestyle changes, such as more frequent or longer breaks and less of the activities causing your pain.
- Splinting: A physician may recommend that you wear a splint to immobilize your wrist. A splint can improve your sleep and provide rest to your median nerve.
- Medication: You may be able to take over-the-counter drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, or prescription medicines like steroids or anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Exercises: Strengthening exercises and stretching can help alleviate pain and allow your nerve to move better in your carpal tunnel.
- Alternative therapy: You may also decide to pursue alternative therapies like chiropractic care and acupuncture. Yoga can also help you reduce pain and enhance your grip strength.
- Surgery: If your carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t responding to non-surgical treatments or is already severe, your physician may recommend surgery. Carpal tunnel release is a surgery that increases the size of your carpal tunnel and alleviates the pressure on the median nerve.
By stretching, correcting your wrist position and taking regular breaks, you may be able to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel management is the easiest way to prevent the development of the condition in the first place and to prevent it from worsening.
Can You Get Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel?
Is carpal tunnel syndrome covered by workers’ compensation? Suffering a work-related injury typically entitles you to workers’ compensation, but you may face some obstacles if you plan on making a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Proving Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Is a Work-Related Injury
With carpal tunnel syndrome, proving that the injury is work-related can be difficult. As the employee, you’ll have to prove that your carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by your job.
If you have a second job or side hustle where you perform repetitive hand movements or if you frequently play an instrument outside of work, your employer’s insurance company may argue that your carpal tunnel syndrome could’ve been caused by these other lifestyle factors. If you have a pre-existing condition, the insurance company may also argue that this is what caused your injury rather than your work duties.
Proving Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as an Occupational Disease or Accident
Depending on your state, carpal tunnel syndrome may be considered a workplace accident or an occupational disease. Knowing how carpal tunnel syndrome is labeled in your state determines what you’ll need to prove for workers’ comp benefits.
Do your state laws specify that compensable disabilities must arise from an accident? If so, the strength of your carpal tunnel workers’ comp case will depend on the definitions of accident and injury in your state. If the condition is characterized as an accident, you may need to prove that your carpal tunnel syndrome was a sudden injury.
On the other hand, if defined as an occupational disease, you have to prove that you were more exposed to carpal tunnel syndrome than the general public. As an occupational disease, carpal tunnel syndrome generally requires a higher standard of proof, while an accident may be easier to prove.
Receiving Benefits for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What benefits can you receive if you develop carpal tunnel at work? If your carpal tunnel syndrome was work-related, you may receive the following benefits:
- Covered medical bills: The medical bills for your carpal tunnel syndrome may be covered, including surgery, medical equipment and rehabilitative care.
- Permanent disability benefits: You may receive permanent disability benefits if your injury is severe enough and you will not completely recover from the injury.
- Temporary disability benefits: You may receive temporary disability benefits like lost wages if you miss several workdays because of your injury.
How much workers’ comp you may be able to receive depends on the rules set by your state. While some states base dollar amounts on the type of injury, others base compensation on the severity of the injury or your wages before you were injured.
While most states consider carpal tunnel syndrome a compensable injury, your ability to prove the injury was work-related is what will determine whether you receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Making a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
How can you claim carpal tunnel syndrome for workers’ compensation? How do you prove carpal tunnel syndrome? Follow these steps for making a workers’ compensation claim for carpal tunnel syndrome:
1. Let Your Employer Know About Your Symptoms
As soon as you notice symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, let your employer know. Timing is important for successfully filing a workers’ comp claim. Most states have a statute of limitations that states the amount of time in which you must inform your employer about your injury. For example, in Kansas, you must inform your employer of your injury within 20 days of visiting your doctor.
If you fail to inform your employer within this time, your employer and your employer’s insurance company may argue against your workers’ comp case, so research the laws in your state to determine what the deadline is for informing your employer about your injury.
2. Seek Medical Attention as Soon as Possible
As with informing your employer, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. If you wait to seek medical attention, your employer and your employer’s insurance company may try to argue that your injury or disability isn’t as severe as you are claiming.
3. Fill out All Required Forms
Research which forms are required for a workers’ compensation claim in your state and be sure to fill these out promptly. Your state may include a statute of limitations for the timeframe in which you are allowed to file a workers’ compensation claim, so make sure you know how much time you have to file a claim in your state.
4. Contact an Attorney for Assistance
If you’re worried about your ability to successfully file a claim for workers’ compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome, you can contact a workers’ compensation attorney. You can discuss your options with an experienced attorney and receive help with developing and proving your workers’ comp case. Qualified attorneys are familiar with workers’ comp laws, so working with an attorney can bring you peace of mind along with increasing your chances of filing a successful claim.
Get Assistance With Your Workers’ Compensation Claim
Working with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer can be the difference between winning or losing your workers’ compensation case. If you’re preparing to file a claim, if your claim has been denied or if you’re receiving fewer benefits than you’re entitled to, contact The Law Office of William L. Phalen. We have decades of experience and give each of our clients personalized attention.