Pursuing Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Injuries 

Here’s how to file a successful worker’s compensation claim if you’re one of the millions of workers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve disorder of the wrist. It’s common in office workers and employees whose jobs involve repetitive hand motions.

The carpal tunnel is a small passageway in the wrist lined by several small bones. A ligament called the transverse carpal ligament arches over the bones and protects the median nerve.

The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the hand, extending down into the thumb, index and middle fingers, and half of the ring finger.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is triggered by pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel.¹

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

When the wrist, fingers, or hand is constantly used for repetitive motions such as twisting, abnormal bending, or persistent striking, the ligament can become inflamed and press against the median nerve.

Compression of the median nerve interferes with the use of your hand and wrist by causing pain and numbness in the hand and fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often considered an occupational disease as the basis for workers’ compensation claims.²

Occupational diseases are chronic conditions that develop as a direct result of an activity that is part of your required daily work.

Inflammation causes the pain in carpal tunnel syndrome. Repeated movement can cause inflammation, but so can underlying medical conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Arthritis

Occupations most commonly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome are:

  • Computer/data entry workers
  • Factory assembly line workers
  • Professional drivers, including truck and bus drivers
  • Musicians
  • Craftsmen
  • Chefs

Recreational activities can also contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Sewing
  • Crocheting
  • Tennis
  • Using hand tools
  • Playing the piano or other instruments

Filing a Carpal Tunnel Injury Claim

Carpal tunnel is a legitimate on-the-job injury. Workers affected by carpal tunnel syndrome have a right to make a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ comp benefits generally include reimbursement for medical and therapy bills, related out-of-pocket expenses, and two-thirds of lost wages.

Unlike many on-the-job injuries that happen suddenly, carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive injury and can take months, even years before you start having any symptoms.

If you experience symptoms and want to seek medical care, you must notify your employer as soon as possible after your symptoms appear.

The workers’ compensation process begins when you first report the injury to your employer. With carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to give an approximate date when you first started noticing your symptoms.

We made it easy to notify your employer with a sample Workers’ Comp Claim Notification Letter.

Once you’ve reported your injury, your employer or workers’ comp representative will give you the forms and instructions to file your claim.

Notifying your employer is not enough. You also have to file your workers’ compensation claim.

Watch out for filing deadlines!  You can lose all rights to compensation if you miss the filing deadline for your state. Find your local State Workers’ Compensation Office for more information about your state’s rules and deadlines.

You will also be given a list of company-approved physicians who will evaluate and treat your injury.

If you aren’t satisfied with the treatment you’re getting from the workers’ comp doctor, you may be able to change doctors after a certain period.

Check your state’s rules to determine when you can see a carpal tunnel specialist who isn’t on the insurance company’s list.

Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Tell the doctor when you first started noticing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, what you are doing when the symptoms occur, and how it affects your ability to complete tasks on and off the job.

Carpal tunnel syndrome often occurs in both hands, although one side may be worse than the other.

Common symptoms include acute or chronic pain, tingling, numbness, burning, or prickling sensations. Affected workers may have difficulty gripping, holding tools, using a computer mouse, typing, or other similar tasks.

Do you play the organ at church? Knit sweaters? Build birdhouses?

Beat the insurance company to the punch. They’ll be looking for an excuse to say your injury happened outside of work or was caused by a pre-existing condition.

Tell your doctor about non-work activities that may contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome, and ask the doctor if work was the primary cause of your problem, as opposed to those outside activities.

Your doctor will examine you and may order imaging studies, like X-rays, to see what’s going on with the bones.

An electromyogram or nerve conduction study is a diagnostic tool frequently used to identify carpal tunnel syndrome. It measures the response time of muscles from a series of quick electrical pulses given to the nerve. This painless test may take 15 minutes to an hour.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome includes wearing a hand splint to prevent the wrist from twisting and bending, drug therapy to reduce inflammation (ibuprofen and naproxen) and reduce swelling (corticosteroids), and in the most serious cases, surgery to release the entrapped nerve.

Depending on your job requirements, the severity of your injury, and the extent of your treatment, you could be off work for a few weeks, up to several months.

At some point during treatment, your physician will determine when you’ve reached a level of maximum medical improvement (MMI). This is when further treatment will not improve your condition.

If your carpal tunnel is diagnosed as a temporary total disability, you may be able to resume your former job duties, but only after additional time for healing. In the meantime, your physician may clear you to work at another job that accommodates your disability.

If your physician believes you have lasting, debilitating damage from your carpal tunnel disability, you may be diagnosed with a permanent partial disability. This means you can’t return to your previous job, or any other job which requires the use of your wrist, hand, or other affected areas.

With a permanent partial disability, you should receive a lump sum settlement from workers’ compensation in addition to payments for your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. The amount of the lump sum award is set by your state’s workers’ comp administration.

Fighting the Insurance Company

Carpal tunnel work injury claims get expensive for insurance companies. Treatment and recovery can take months, and some workers are never able to return to work. To make matters worse, some states don’t require repetitive motion injuries to be covered by workers’ comp.

The insurance company will challenge your claim for job-related carpal tunnel syndrome, arguing that your condition was caused by pre-exiating medical conditions or activities you do outside of work.

The insurance company may accept your claim, but then dispute your disability level using one of their favorite strategies. They’ll send you to a hand-picked workers’ compensation doctor for an Independent Medical Exam (IME). The IME doctor is not there to help you or treat your injury. IME doctors work for the insurance company, and understand what the insurance company wants to hear.

Either way, the insurance company will look for reasons to deny your claim or limit your benefits.  The burden will be on you to prove your injury was caused by your job and is limiting your ability to work.

You don’t have to face the insurance company’s big guns by yourself.

You have too much to lose by moving forward without a professional evaluation of your claim’s value. It costs nothing to find out what an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can do for you.

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Carpal Tunnel Injury Questions & Answers