In today’s job market, more than 50 percent of jobs require some form of typing or computer work. This number is expected to increase to 77 percent during the next decade. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that the “typist disability,” or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), is one of the most common disabling conditions in the United States.
Most of us type at work. When we’re not typing at work, we’re often writing, texting, playing video games, doing housework, or playing sports. Common among all these activities is one thing: wrist and hand movement.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder that often causes wrist pain, numbness, and stiffness. The pain and numbness result from compression of the median nerve in your wrist, making it extremely difficult to type or engage in repetitive wrist movements. While administrative professionals, lawyers, court reporters, typists, educators, doctors, dentists, tech workers, and insurance adjusters commonly suffer from CTS, any professional required to engage in repetitive wrist, hand or frequent finger movements can develop the condition. Painters, carpenters, factory workers, and athletes may all develop carpal tunnel syndrome with time.
Unfortunately CTS gets progressively worse. If you have it, you may eventually find yourself unable to perform the important duties of your occupation. You may also need to claim individual or group long-term disability benefits for persistent and worsening carpal tunnel syndrome. Your wrists need time to rest, and surgery is often necessary so that sufferers may find relief. CTS can also evince a more serious underlying condition.
Our founding partner, Frank N. Darras, and his firms have recovered nearly $1 billion in wrongfully delayed, denied, and terminated insurance benefits. DarrasLaw regularly works with clients who suffer from disabilities related to carpal tunnel syndrome. Our stellar individual disability attorneys and skilled national group ERISA lawyers are here for you throughout the disability claims process. From claim application to litigation, no case is too small or too difficult for us at DarrasLaw. Call us today at (800) 458-4577 or contact us online to schedule your free disability policy analysis and free claim consultation.
Understanding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Everyone has a carpal tunnel in each wrist. It’s a hard, one-inch tunnel formed partially by carpals (the bones in your wrist) and a carpal ligament. Its primary function is to protect the median nerve and the smaller tendons that control finger movement from damage. The median nerve controls the function of your hand, and these smaller tendons are what bend your fingers and thumbs. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when this tunnel begins to narrow either through degeneration or swelling. The narrowing of the carpal tunnel squeezes your median nerve, causing numbness, tingling, pain, and an interruption of the brain signals to your hand. Movement can either relieve or exacerbate your pain depending on the area of compression.
Signs and Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome typically manifests with the following symptoms:
- Shock-like sensation radiating to your fingers
- Radiating pain and numbness from your wrist to your hands, forearm, and/or shoulder
- Tingling and burning, excluding your pinky finger
- Clumsiness, including dropping things and an inability to perform complex tasks
- Weakness and inability to grasp
- Loss of proprioception—an unawareness of where your hand is in space
These symptoms may come and go. They may begin gradually or manifest when you’re performing common tasks such as typing, writing, or playing the piano. Carpal tunnel syndrome also worsens at night or when the wrist is bent backward, which often occurs when you drive, hold your phone, or read.
These symptoms combined with the following risk factors may lead to a CTS diagnosis:
- Extreme flexion and extension activities – Repeated activities that require extreme wrist movements such as hammering can increase swelling and pressure on the median nerve.
- Repetitive wrist movement – This is one of the most common risk factors. Constant typing, driving, and painting can aggravate your wrist tendons, causing the swelling that puts pressure on your nerve. This can result in an inability to perform the important duties of your occupation if it requires repetitive motions. You must rest and ice the tendons to reduce swelling, and that’s not always an option with the demands of the modern workplace.
- Genetics – Some people have naturally smaller carpal tunnels, so it takes less swelling and aggravation to compress the nerve. This characteristic can run in families. You’re more likely to have CTS if a close blood relative does as well.
- Pregnancy – Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy often result in wrist swelling and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Sprains, strains, and minor fractures can also cause wrist pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome is unique in that the pain may be sporadic, and you may seldom experience pain and numbness in your little finger, and you may experience worse pain in your dominant wrist.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The diagnostic process is important because you need compelling medical evidence and proof of CTS to claim individual or group long-term disability benefits. It may not be enough for your treating doctor to say you might or probably have CTS. You may need to undergo objective medical testing resulting in an affirmative diagnosis of the condition. Your individual or group long-term disability insurer is going to look for the following objective medical tests if you have the makings of a valid individual or group disability claim due to carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Nerve conduction studies – This test is used to measure how your median nerve conducts signals from the brain. Reduced conduction can mean pressure on the nerve, which may mean disability.
- EMG – This test measures electrical activity in your muscles, such as how your nerves communicate with the muscles and how your muscles receive communications. This test can indicate nerve and muscle damage.
- Hand/wrist bending – Your treating doctor will probably start by flexing your wrist into the position that causes you pain and tingling.
- Muscle weakness/atrophy test – Carpal tunnel syndrome may weaken certain muscles around your thumb. The muscles may shrink or die.
- Tinel’s sign test – Your treating doctor will press down on the median nerve in your wrist to see if it triggers numbness and tingling in your fingers.
- Sensitivity testing – Your treating doctor may test finger sensitivity, or lack thereof, indicating CTS.
- X-Rays – Your individual or group long-term disability insurer will look for X-rays to rule out a fracture or arthritis.
- MRI – This test may rule out other causes of wrist pain. Your treating doctor may see if scar tissue, tumors, or any abnormalities are pressing on the nerve.
- Ultrasound – This is a more inexpensive way of getting a picture of the bones and tissues in your wrist. It may determine whether the nerve is compressed.
Any or all of these tests may support a carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis. The top-rated long-term individual disability lawyers and award-winning group ERISA attorneys at DarrasLaw can help you and your treating doctors present the proper evidence to your disability carrier and support your valid claim for individual or group long-term disability benefits.
Conditions Underlying Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
CTS often results from overuse of the affected hand, but has other causes as well. You may qualify for individual or group long-term disability benefits if you have an underlying condition of which CTS is only a symptom:
- Kidney failure – Surprisingly, patients on dialysis can experience carpal tunnel syndrome because they may develop cystic bone lesions that compress the median nerve.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This autoimmune disorder causes your immune system to attack the lining of your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly attacks your hands, which may swell and compress the median nerve.
- Diabetes – CTS may actually predict diabetes, but the medical link isn’t clear. It’s suspected that the abnormal blood sugar and metabolic changes associated with diabetes cause swelling in the wrists.
- Trauma – Any type of wrist trauma can cause swelling of the surrounding tendons, muscles, and joints, leading to a compressed nerve. Scar tissue left from a traumatic fracture, injury, or surgery can cause CTS by compressing the median nerve.
- Menopause – Hormonal changes during menopause, like pregnancy, can also cause wrist swelling and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism) – When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, it can cause something called peripheral neuropathy. This damages nerves cells and signals, which can hurt the median nerve and cause swelling that compresses it. Cases of peripheral neuropathy in patients with hypothyroidism are rare but almost always manifest in CTS.
Your treating doctor should always test for these underlying conditions if you’re suffering from wrist pain, swelling, and numbness.
Not every case of CTS qualifies you for individual or group long-term disability benefits. For example, if you can perform the important duties of your occupation without a computer, but using one saves you time, you may not qualify for individual or group long-term disability benefits. This is because typing may not be considered an important, material, or substantial duty of your occupation. On the other hand, a surgeon who experiences numbness in her hands during surgery due to CTS may qualify for individual or group long-term disability benefits.
You may also claim individual or group long-term disability benefits for a recognized underlying condition, such as diabetes. The experienced individual disability lawyers and seasoned group ERISA attorneys at DarrasLaw will conduct a completely free disability policy analysis and free claim consultation to determine your eligibility for individual or group long-term disability benefits.
Treating and Working With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Take a moment to think about how often you use your wrist, fingers, and hands during the day. You’re probably using your hands right now. CTS can make picking up your office phone or sending an email extremely painful. It can leave you with numbness or tingling in your hands and make every office task more difficult. You may have to adjust your typing position or use voice recognition technology, which can significantly increase the amount of time it takes to draft an email. It may take you longer to sign your name, eat, and pick up a cup of coffee.
Small, everyday home and occupational tasks can become overwhelming for claimants with chronic CTS. Unfortunately, CTS worsens with time and you may find yourself disabled and unable to perform the important duties of your occupation. Remember, a condition doesn’t have to threaten your life to qualify you for individual or group long-term disability benefits.
Many CTS suffers benefit from wearing wrist braces, which can prevent painful wrist extension and promote healing. In combination with anti-inflammatories, this may relieve your symptoms, allowing you to work. Ice packs and rest can also help reduce swelling, but some CTS pain is chronic or caused by scar tissue, not swelling.
You must treat the underlying cause of carpal tunnel syndrome if it’s related to an illness. Patients suffering from an autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis may require steroids or immunosuppressants. When these basic remedies fail, however, you must consider more serious surgical treatments and appropriate care interventions.
Ultrasound therapy, acupuncture, and cortisone shots in the wrist can reduce swelling and may partially relieve CTS symptoms. Treating doctors typically try various alternative and non-surgical treatments for about six months before recommending carpal tunnel release surgery.
CTS patients have two basic types of recommended surgery. The first is open surgery, which involves making an incision from your wrist to your palm, and the second type is endoscopic, or less invasive. Either way, carpal tunnel release surgery involves cutting the ligament that supports your carpal tunnel and attempting to release the pressure on your nerve. This hypothetically should immediately relieve symptoms, and when your ligament heals, it typically leaves more space in the carpal tunnel. This should allow the surrounding ligaments to swell without putting pressure on the nerve. Despite a perfect surgery, many claimants are left with pain, reduced range of motion and scarring.
Contact America’s Top-Rated Long-Term Individual Disability Attorneys and Award-Winning Group ERISA Lawyers at DarrasLaw Today
The renowned individual disability lawyers and preeminent group ERISA attorneys at DarrasLaw know how seriously something as seemingly simple as wrist pain can stop your career in its tracks. We frequently evaluate disability cases involving the wrongful delay, denial, or termination of individual or group long-term disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome. Led by America’s top-rated long-term disability lawyer, Frank N. Darras, our team of nationally respected individual disability lawyers and prominent group ERISA attorneys are ready to help you get the individual or group long-term disability benefits you are entitled to. Call the experienced individual disability attorneys and premier group ERISA lawyers at DarrasLaw at (800) 458-4577 or contact us online to schedule your completely free disability policy analysis and free claim consultation.