If anyone you know works at a keyboard all day and comes home complaining of soreness in the wrists or numb feeling and tingling in the hands, the amateur medical diagnosis is universally “Oh, you’ve got carpal tunnel syndrome.”
And the amateur doctors are probably right.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one of the most common repetitive stress injuries, affecting nearly nine million Americans in industries such as manufacturing, assembly line work, construction, fishing industry jobs, sewing and, yes, people who sit at a keyboard all day.
What’s surprising, however, is the belief that carpal tunnel is limited to those who spend much of their day sitting at a desk typing. In fact, it happens most often in the clothing apparel manufacturing, animal slaughterhouse businesses and other sedentary occupations. Workers who get CTS are required to perform repetitive tasks with their hands (sewing, butchering meat), maintain awkward posture (work on an assembly line or at a computer) and those are the high-risk factors for CTS.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says that 2.5 million of the people can attribute their carpal tunnel syndrome to work-related issues. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the cause for the second most common type of muscle and bone surgery performed every year with over 230,000 procedures and nearly one in four of those who have surgery, can’t return to their former jobs.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a painful condition of the hand and fingers caused by pressure on the median nerve, which provides the ability to feel in your thumb, index and middle fingers. Carpal tunnel is the narrow passageway between bones and ligaments on the palm side of your hand. When the median nerve is compressed or inflamed, it results in weakness in the hand or an annoying tingling sensation.
CTS typically happens in a gradual fashion and may affect one or both of your hands and wrists. It is caused by repetitive work, mechanical stress, poor posture and repeated vibration from sources like hand tools and power tools at a construction site.
Most of the jobs associated with CTS involve prolonged and repeated flexing and extension of the wrist. Affected workers complain that their hands feel swollen and useless. Doctors usually treat it with an injection of corticosteroids or cortisone to reduce pain and swelling.
Though it is unlikely, there are cases where CTS causes nerve damage, disability and loss of hand function, if left untreated.
Is Carpal Tunnel Covered by Workers Comp?
“Some people don’t realize that repetitive use injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome are just as compensable in workers compensation as single traumatic event injuries,” Alan Pierce, a prominent workers compensation lawyer from Boston, said. “People do legitimately get it from overuse in the workplace. If you convince a doctor that’s where is started, he or she will support causation.”
Scientific studies call the cause for CTS “confounding” and, in most cases, say it can’t be definitively attributed to a single factor, like most workplace accidents.
Doctors agree that repetitive hand work, such as what happens on an assembly line or at a meat-packing plant, or vibration from power took equipment easily identifiable factors in CTS. However, they can’t rule out contributing factors like such as heredity, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, hand or wrist deformity.
There also is the issue of timing. CTS is a gradual injury that occurs over time. It seldom is the result of a single incident and thus it is hard to go to a supervisor and report today that my hand hurts because I’ve been on this assembly line for the last 10 years.
How to File a Workers Comp Claim for Carpal Tunnel
So, if you have CTS, you do have a case, but you – or a workers comp attorney you hire – may have to take extra steps to prove it’s work related.
Filing a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome is the same as filing any other case – you start by informing your supervisor. It’s the two questions that usually follow that can make things tough:
- When did this injury occur?
- Can you prove this is work related?
The “when” question is really difficult because CTS usually develops over months or even years before you notice the symptoms. It is called a “progressive” injury, meaning you may not know when it started, but the pain in your hands will tell you when it ended.
The same difficulty exists with “was it work related” and not the result of lifestyle choices like sewing, playing the piano or painting, or these days, playing video games. All of them involve concentrated, repetitive effort with your hands and insurance adjusters will try and pin the blame there, if possible. There also is a chance the opposing side will claim it is the result of a pre-existing condition like arthritis, diabetes, thyroid issues or pregnancy.
Another issue is to determine whether your state laws regard carpal tunnel syndrome as an occupational illness or just another job injury.
Proving that CTS is an occupational illness, meaning it is the result of characteristic conditions or functions at your job site, isn’t easy. You will need to show that the work you do makes you more susceptible to CTS than the general public.
It would help considerably if your doctors document their belief that the cause of the injury was work conditions, and rule out the other factors.
Some states categorize CTS as an injury and only require a “preponderance of evidence” to win the claim.
Either way, hiring an attorney improves the chances of you winning your case.
“You really can’t do this alone,” Pierce said. “You need an attorney who’s going to get your complete medical history, the amount of time you’re doing a particular task at work each day, you’ll need input from the treating doctor, and if necessary, hire a consulting doctor.
“And after all that, you’ve got to convince the fact finder that this happened at work and is a compensable injury.”
Workers Comp Benefits for Carpal Tunnel
If you have successfully filed a workers compensation claim for carpal tunnel syndrome, you are entitled to a long list of medical benefits and possibly wage compensation for lost work time.
The list of medical benefits includes payment for appointments with doctors and specialists, x-rays, hand braces, physical therapy, cortisone injections and surgery.
If the pain prevents you doing your job, you could receive wage compensation benefits equivalent to roughly two-thirds of your weekly salary. Those payments stop when doctors determine that you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) and there is nothing else they can do to help you recover.
If the pain persists and you can’t do your job, you may reach a settlement with your employer or ask the employer to move you do another job where CST won’t stop you from working.
Workers Comp Settlements for Carpal Tunnel
Negotiating a workers comp settlement for carpal tunnel problems is possible, but as is the case with nearly every injury, it’s difficult to put an accurate number on how much compensation you can expect.
The dollar figure is a combination of factors that include what your weekly pay is and whether you’re expected to recover well enough to resume doing the job you had.
Some law firms say the expected payout is only about $7,000-$15,000, while other firms claim the average payout is in the $30,000-$70,000 range.
Though it’s very rare, it’s possible that carpal tunnel syndrome could lead to permanent nerve damage and loss of hand function, which would increase the settlement payment.
However, treatment for carpal tunnel, especially the surgery performed, has been very successful.
Workers Comp for Carpal Tunnel – FAQs
How Do You Prove Carpal Tunnel Is Work Related?
This likely the most important aspect of a workers compensation claim for carpal tunnel because so many factors can contribute to getting the disease and because the process happens over months, sometime years. A good start is establishing that you work in one of the industries that requires repetitive wrist movement like clothing manufacturing or meat cutting, work on assembly line, occupations based on typing on a keyboard and construction jobs where vibrating tools are used. When you go for a doctor’s examination, discuss your job as well as activities outside of work and ask the doctor are the work-related requirements more likely to cause CTS. Finally, try to establish a time when the pain first showed up and what you have done to deal with it.
Can I Get Time Off Work for Carpal Tunnel?
Yes, you can get time off work if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, but you’re going to have to prove that the condition makes it difficult for you to carry, grasp or perform motor functions with your hands, making it impossible for you to continue working.
Yes – carpal tunnel syndrome, in some cases, can lead to long term disability. The condition causes numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness in the hands and fingers, which can vary in severity from bothersome to debilitating.
Can Carpal Tunnel Cause Permanent Disability?
It is possible, though highly improbable, that carpal tunnel syndrome could cause permanent disability. The condition causes numbness, tingling and weakness in your hands that can, over time, become debilitating. However, if diagnosed early, CTS can be fixed easily with surgery. The worker might need 7-10 days to recover after surgery, at which time, the question becomes whether they can return to the same job and be effective.
About The Author
Bill Fay has touched a lot of bases in his 45-year career. He started as a sports writer, gaining national attention for work on college and professional sports. He had regular roles as an analyst on radio and television and later became a speech writer for a government agency. His most recent work is as an internet content marketing specialist. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.
- Jackson, R., Beckman, J., Frederick, M., Musolin, K., Harrison, R. (2018, October 5) Rates of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in a State Workers’ Compensation Information System, by Industry and Occupation – California, 2007-2-14. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6739a4.htm
- N.A. (ND) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355603
- N.A. (2021, November 15) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet
- N.A. (ND) 11 Astounding Carpal Tunnel Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.orthoarlington.com/contents/patient-info/conditions-procedures/11-astounding-carpal-tunnel-statistics