Sunday, March 8, 2009

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Minnesota Workers' Compensation

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common work-related injuries we see in our practice.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes compressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers. The carpal “tunnel” is a narrow, rigid passageway of ligaments and bones at the wrist, and it houses the median nerve and tendons. Thickening of the tendons due to irritation or other swelling can cause the tunnel to narrow and cause compression on the median nerve. Compression of the median nerve can cause pain, weakness, and numbness into the hand and wrist, which can radiate up into the arm.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can include:
  • A burning sensation in the palm and fingers.
  • Tingling or numbness in the palm and fingers.
  • An itching sensation in the palm and fingers.
  • A sensation of swelling, with or without actual visible swelling.
  • Waking at night due to pain, burning, or numbness in the hands.
  • Decreased grip strength.
  • Difficulty grasping small objects.
  • Loss of the ability to feel hot or cold.
  • Sensation that the hands are “falling asleep.”
Usually, work-related carpal tunnel syndrome is the result of long-term repetitive motions. Carpal tunnel syndrome is commonly referred to as a repetitive motion injury or a Gillette-type injury under Minnesota workers’ compensation law.

Contrary to popular belief, carpal tunnel syndrome is not an injury that occurs only to office workers, nor is it an injury that only women experience. We frequently see injured workers, both men and women, with carpal tunnel syndrome as the result of repetitive motions in the following lines of employment:
  • Assemblers
  • Manufacturers
  • Heavy Equipment Operators
  • Press Operators
  • Machine Operators
  • Factory Workers
  • Dental Hygienists
  • Hairstylists
  • Secretaries
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Data Entry Personnel
  • Food Processors
  • Packaging Workers
  • Finishers
In order to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, frequently a doctor will examine the affected wrist for tenderness, swelling, warmth, and discoloration. The fingers will also be tested for sensation, and muscles at the base of the hand will be tested for strength and signs of atrophy. The doctor may order laboratory tests and X-rays to rule out other conditions. If carpal tunnel syndrome is suspected, a doctor may order a nerve conduction study to diagnose damage to the median nerve. Ultrasound imaging may also be used to confirm a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Conservative treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome often involves avoiding repetitive motions, icing, splints or braces, anti-inflammatory medication, pain medication, corticosteriodal medications or injections, and/or physical therapy and exercise.

If conservative treatments are not effective at relieving symptoms, surgical treatment may be indicated. Carpal tunnel release is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. Surgery involves severing the band of tissue around the wrist to reduce pressure on the median nerve. It can be an open release surgery or an endoscopic surgery. It is often an outpatient procedure, performed under local anesthesia. Following surgery, patients usually require physical therapy to restore wrist strength, and they may need to adjust their job duties or even change jobs to avoid recurrence of the injury.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a serious injury, and it can cause an employee to lose a lot of time from work. If the employee’s job duties require repetitive motions, and the employer cannot (or will not) accommodate an employee’s need to avoid repetitive motions, that employee may also lose his or her job. Work-related carpal tunnel syndrome is covered by Minnesota workers’ compensation. If you suffer from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be entitled to medical benefits, wage loss benefits, permanency benefits, and rehabilitation benefits.

In addition to work-related repetitive motions, it is also thought that carpal tunnel syndrome may be a genetic condition, or that it is related to diabetes, arthritis, and obesity. Workers’ compensation insurance companies frequently argue that an employee’s carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by something other than his or her work activities. Moreover, it is often very difficult for an employee to go back to work in his or her original position if the job duties include repetitive motions. Some employers cannot or will not accommodate an employee’s need to avoid repetitive work, and suddenly that employee finds his or herself looking for a new line of work. If you suffer from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome, it is wise to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer.

In our experience, workers’ compensation insurance companies frequently dispute that the employee’s carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by the employee’s work. To schedule a free, no obligation consultation, call Meuser & Associates at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.

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