If you’re like many people, your job involves some level of doing the same thing repeatedly — like typing on a keyboard, lifting something from one place to another, or even driving. Repetitive motions involving your hands and arms can often lead to numbness and tingling. In many cases, this is due to a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is incredibly common, affecting millions of Americans. While it can be caused by a number of factors, including underlying health problems, it is frequently related to work. If your carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by your work, then you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.
At Bross & Frankel, we represent people throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania who have are seeking workers’ compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. If you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, a New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney can help you get the benefits that you are entitled to under the law.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a condition that is caused by pressure on the median nerve, which is located on the palm side of a person’s wrist. This nerve runs through a narrow passageway known as the carpal tunnel, and provides sensation and allows you to move muscles around your thumb and fingers. People with CTS may experience numbness, tingling, and weakness in the affected hand and arm.
There are a number of potential causes of CTS. The anatomy of your wrist and other health problems may cause this condition. In addition, repetitive hand motions — including the type that many of us do every day at work — can cause CTS.
If the median nerve becomes compressed or is otherwise irritated, you may experience the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. These symptoms are usually mild to start, with tingling in numbness in your fingers or hands, which may travel up your arm. CTS may also cause you to experience weakness in your hand and arm.
Certain things make it more likely that you will develop carpal tunnel, such as:
- Chronic disease, like diabetes, may damage the nerves
- Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may impact the median nerve
- CTS is more common in women than in men
- A fracture or dislocation of the wrist or arthritis that deforms the wrist bones can put pressure on the median nerve
- A medication used to treat breast cancer has been linked to CTS
- Fluid retention may increase pressure within the carpal tunnel
- Certain health issues may increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with CTS, such as menopause, thyroid disorders, and kidney failure
- Activities that require prolonged or reparative flexing of the wrist or work with vibrating tools may create pressure on the median nerve.
Doctors can diagnose carpal tunnel through reviewing your symptoms, performing a physical examination, and doing tests, including a nerve conduction study and/or an electromyography test. Treatment usually starts with splinting your wrist and prescribing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS); corticosteroid injections may be administered if your symptoms do not improve. If you still have numbness and tingling, then surgery may be performed to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable. However, if you don’t seek treatment immediately, then the damage to the median nerve may be permanent.
How Can Carpal Tunnel Be Caused By Work?
Although carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by a number of things, such as a chronic condition, it is frequently caused by repetitive motion. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Occupational risk factors for CTS include engaging in work activities that require forceful, repetitive tasks, prolonged use of the hands or wrists in an awkward posture, or vibration.”
This study found that female workers were 3.3 times more likely than men to report carpal tunnel syndrome as a work-related injury. Three industries, in particular, had high rates of CTS:
- Textile, fabric finishing and coating mills
- Apparel accessories and manufacturing; and
- Animal slaughtering and processing
Performing forceful and repetitive tasks or maintaining an award posture for an extended period of time can often lead to the development of CTS. This may include:
- Sewing clothes
- Butchering meat
- Repeatedly lifting heavy items
- Doing computer work
- Driving a motor vehicle
- Working on a production line
A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that doing work that involved vibration (like using heavy equipment or operating machinery), repetitive motions, using hand force, and using force with your hands repeatedly will increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. But is carpal tunnel a disability?
Getting Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is often closely related to activities that you do at work. While many people associate workers’ compensation with traumatic injuries — like a crushing injury or falling at work — you can also receive workers’ compensation benefits for an injury or illness that develops over time. When you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome that was caused by the functions of your job, then you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The amount of benefits that you receive will depend on factors such as the severity of your injury and whether you are permanently disabled.
Under New Jersey law, workers’ compensation benefits are available for employees who have suffered on-the-job illnesses and/or injuries. The key to receiving benefits is to prove that your carpal tunnel syndrome is related to work, rather than another cause, such as an underlying health condition.
If you file a claim for workers’ compensation based on CTS, your employer and their insurance company may challenge your claim on the basis that your condition was not caused by your work. The insurance company may request that you undergo an independent medical examination (IME) or even have you investigated to prove that you are faking or exaggerating your symptoms. In this situation, you will be required to prove that your diagnosis is due to something that you do at work, like working on a production line and performing the same hand movements over and over again throughout the day.
There is a wide body of research on the link between carpal tunnel syndrome and certain occupations and job functions. If your doctor has diagnosed you with CTS, they may be able to provide an opinion as to how you developed this condition. Even if you have rheumatoid arthritis, for example, your treating physician may be able to state that you would not have developed carpal tunnel syndrome without performing the types of hand and wrist motions that you do every day at your job.
It is often difficult or even impossible to work with carpal tunnel syndrome, depending on the type of work that you do. Workers’ compensation benefits are necessary to allow you to seek medical treatment, take time off of work to recover, and maintain your financial stability. The ability to get treatment is particularly important, given that a failure to treat can lead to permanent nerve damage.
Injured at Work? We are Here to Help.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is incredibly common in the United States, with an average of 1 in 20 adults — or 3 to 6% of the population — experiencing it at some point in their lives. If your CTS was caused by work, then you may be entitled to benefits through the workers’ compensation system. An experienced New Jersey workers’ compensation attorney can advocate for your right to these benefits.
At Bross & Frankel, we have more than 100 years of combined experience helping employees like you get the workers’ compensation benefits that they are entitled to under the law. With offices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we are well-equipped to help you throughout the process. To learn more about how we can help or to schedule a free claim review with a member of our team, contact our office today at (856) 795-8880, or reach out online.
Rich Frankel is the managing partner of Bross & Frankel. He is a member of the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. He has focused exclusively on disability and social security benefits since 2005.
Mr. Frankel joined what is now Bross & Frankel after having watched his father struggle with disability, fighting a lengthy illness. Mr. Frankel founded the firm’s veteran’s law practice and substantially grew the social security disability practice, focusing Bross & Frankel’s ability to fight for all of the disability benefits available to his clients.
Mr. Frankel additionally fights for clients in court, obtaining frequent victories in Social Security appeals and against insurance companies in Federal court.