The carpal tunnel is the passageway in the wrist that houses tendons, bones, and the median nerve (the nerve that runs from the forearm to palm) that controls sensation in the hands and wrists. When the tissue in the area becomes agitated and inflamed, it compresses the median nerve, which causes symptoms such as tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hands. This condition is referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s very common amongst workers who perform repetitive tasks. Fortunately, Iowa allows workers' compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome.
When you sustain a work-related injury or illness, you are entitled to workers' compensation benefits like medical benefits and disability benefits. These kinds of claims for repetitive stress injuries can be challenging to prove though, and it’s highly recommended that you speak with a lawyer prior to filing a claim.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & Its Effect on Your Ability to Work
Those who work in manufacturing or in an office setting are very susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome because of all of the required repetitive work tasks. Construction workers who use vibrating equipment, e.g., jackhammers, are also at risk. Frequent and prolonged force on the hands and wrists, vibration, repetitive pinching and grasping, and awkward postures are all contributing factors to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Workers generally start to notice symptoms in their dominant hand first, and then it may progress to the other hand. The symptoms also tend to worsen at night. In serious cases, it’s hard to find relief, and the loss of strength in the hands can affect your dexterity, grip, and range of motion, impeding your ability to work.
Many workers who suffer from carpal tunnel have to undergo one or more surgeries to lessen the pressure on the median nerve. Some patients wind up suffering from excessive postoperative pain and still have a large degree of dysfunction after surgery. They may need rehabilitation and various treatments. This can mean weeks or months of not being able to return to work and/or only being cleared by the doctor for light duty.
Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
First, doctors will usually recommend non-surgical treatments, such as the following:
- Taking frequent breaks to rest your hands
- Applying cold packs
- Wrist splinting
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Stretching exercises for the hands and wrists
- Occupational therapy
- Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic care
If those treatments prove ineffective and you’ve had symptoms for six months or more, doctors will usually recommend a surgery called carpal tunnel release. In this simple outpatient operation, the surgeon will cut the band of tissue around the wrist to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
While surgery is usually effective for most workers, it still requires recovery time and there may still be permanent impairments. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “full recovery from carpal tunnel surgery can take months. Some patients may have infection, nerve damage, stiffness, and pain at the scar. Occasionally the wrist loses strength because the carpal ligament is cut. Some patients may need to adjust job duties or even change jobs after recovery from surgery.”
Note, if you developed carpal tunnel syndrome because of job-related duties, all of your medical bills associated with your condition should be covered under Iowa workers’ compensation. This includes surgeries, follow-up visits, prescriptions, splints, rehab, and your injury-related transportation costs.
Challenges with Workers’ Compensation Claims for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As with a lot of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), workers’ compensation claims for carpal tunnel syndrome can be very challenging. When you file a claim, the burden of proof is upon you; you’ll have to prove to the insurer that your condition is related to your job.
Because carpal tunnel syndrome usually isn’t caused by a definitive, single event such as an accident, the insurer may argue that your condition is not work related. For example, it may be relatively straightforward to document that a fall off a ladder caused a dislocated shoulder. But the insurer may question whether events outside of work caused repetitive stress injuries that develop over time.
The insurer may also challenge the extent of your impairment, arguing that you are fully capable of returning to work – even if you haven’t really fully recovered. Not only is the doctor's evaluation of your injury important in that it determines when and in what capacity you can return to your job, the impairment rating affects the permanent partial disability benefits that you receive.
According to a 1999 article published in The Iowa Orthopaedic Journal, “Contested Claims in Carpal Tunnel Surgery,” younger workers who have a substantial amount of carpal tunnel syndrome pain have an exceedingly hard time initially winning their claim. If nonsurgical treatment failed, the patients underwent carpal tunnel release, but getting approval for the surgery wasn't easy. “Within this subgroup, in all cases, the employer or workers’ compensation insurance carrier initially denied a request for authorization to perform surgery,” the study authors noted.
The Good News: Lawyers Can Successfully Help Secure Benefits
Don’t let the fact that your claim might be hard to prove discourage you from filing, though. A lawyer can be instrumental to your case. Treatments and surgeries can be very expensive and you will probably miss quite a few paychecks while you’re healing. You shouldn’t have to pay for these costs out of pocket or swallow the jagged pill of lost wages – this is exactly why workers’ compensation was created.
The aforementioned study authors noted that when claimants were denied benefits, if they had an attorney intervene, they eventually won their case and received authorization for surgery. Attorneys who specifically handle challenging workers' compensation cases such as those for carpal tunnel syndrome simply know how to substantiate the claims, need for treatment, and fight for workers’ best interests.
An attorney can gather the evidence necessary to link your condition to your job and to prove your level of impairment and need for the right treatment. If you run into hiccups with your benefits, a lawyer will be able to navigate the workers’ compensation system, fight a denied claim if need be, and work hard to establish your eligibility.
Let Our Firm Help You Win Your Benefits
Our firm, Walker, Billingsley & Bair, handles workers’ compensation cases of all kinds, including the hard-to-prove RSI cases. You’re invited to call our office for help. Contact us today at 888-435-9886 and set up a free consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney to review your case and determine if you qualify for benefits.