Carpal tunnel affects approximately 3-6 percent of all adults in the U.S., adding up to an estimated 15 million Americans. The average carpal tunnel patient will spend about $30,000 in medical bills and time away from work, and the American Chiropractic Association calls carpal tunnel syndrome “the most expensive of all work-related injuries.”
The carpal tunnel is a narrow, rigid passageway of ligaments and bones at the base of the hand. If the tendons in the carpal tunnel are irritated or otherwise inflamed, it can compress the median nerve, leading to pain, weakness, and even numbness of the hand and wrist. Even though the hand may not appear swollen, many people with carpal tunnel syndrome report that their fingers feel useless and swollen, and the weakened grip can make it hard to grasp small objects or make a fist. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition, meaning it can get worse over time if left untreated.
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Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by a number of factors, including congenital conditions (that contribute to a smaller-than-average carpal tunnel), trauma or injury to the wrist, overactivity of the pituitary gland, rheumatoid arthritis, or complications from pregnancy. However, a major cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive motion. Assembly line workers in a variety of industries are at an increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as people in the following fields:
- Playing musical instruments
- Mechanical work
- Agricultural work
- Jobs that require repeated use of vibrating tools
If you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of your work, you could have a legal claim to compensation. However, a successful workers’ compensation or personal injury claim relies on determining the exact cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive motion injuries don’t always manifest right away, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause—especially if you have already left the job that caused the condition.
Workers’ compensation is a “no fault” insurance program that provides wage replacement, medical treatment, and disability payments to those injured at work. Regardless of who was at fault, the workers’ compensation program allows for payments to an injured worker while he or she is unable to work (or is forced to work in a different capacity due to the condition).
If you are suffering from work-related carpal tunnel syndrome, it is important to follow these steps:
- Report the injury: make sure your employer knows as soon as possible that you are suffering from a work-related condition. It is extremely important for your employer to know you are injured AND that the injury was caused by work. Failure to report a work-related injury can make it extremely difficult to win a workers’ compensation claim, and many workplaces have strict time limits for reporting a work-related injury.
- Seek medical attention: if the injury comes on slowly, like carpal tunnel syndrome tends to do, it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Going to the doctor immediately will bolster your claim for medical expenses, and it will help show that this injury was serious when it comes time to argue your case.
- Consult an attorney: you have the right to representation by a lawyer, who will collect medical records and other appropriate documents on your behalf. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to navigate the ins and outs of workers’ compensation and help you fight for the compensation you deserve.
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In certain situations, you could have a personal injury claim instead of a workers’ compensation claim. This is true if your carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by a non-work related event, such as an equipment malfunction or a car accident. In this case, you could file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress, property damage, and more.