After a long day on the job where you perhaps handle a register or an assembly line, you have noticed your hand tingling or lacking in sensation. Maybe you have some pain in your wrist or fingers, and when you get up in the morning your wrist feels like you need to shake it out. Perhaps you have noticed a loss of grip in that hand, or you have difficulty forcing it into a fist. You have seriously thought about filing for workers’ compensation, but you do not know if it is even classified as a work-related injury — after all, it didn’t happen overnight.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome, often referred to as median nerve compression, is a fairly common medical diagnosis which can sometimes resolve itself within a matter of months — but not always. The most common symptoms of the injury are tingling, burning, itching, or numbness in the arm and hand (including the ring finger, middle finger, index finger, and thumb), pain, and inflammation. These symptoms are caused by a pinched median nerve within the wrist.
Over time, if carpal tunnel syndrome is not treated, symptoms can get much worse. Pain can increase and you can lose the ability to grip objects in your hand, make a fist, or perform some manual tasks. In severe cases, the muscles at the base of the thumb may begin to waste away and you lose the ability to discern between hot and cold using your hand or fingers. Note that certain conditions can worsen the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, including arthritis, pregnancy, prior trauma or injury, and diabetes.
The primary means of treating carpal tunnel syndrome is a surgery known as carpal tunnel release. Alternative treatments may include diuretics, steroid injections to reduce inflammation, splints, and rest.
Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The main cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure exerted on the median nerve. That pressure usually comes as a result of inflammation and swelling within the wrist that results in compression of the median nerve. These symptoms are worsened by repeated motion involving the wrist and can result from how your wrists are positioned when typing or using a mouse, any repeated movement that tends to overextend the wrist, and the use of hand tools or power tools that result in prolonged exposure to vibration.
Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Be a Work-Related Injury?
Now comes the interesting part: is carpal tunnel syndrome considered a workers’ compensation injury in Pennsylvania? The short answer is yes: it has been considered a workers’ compensation injury for many years. Contrary to popular belief, not all workers’ compensation injuries have to result from a single, traumatic injury. Some injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome, develop over a prolonged period of time and are referred to as repetitive stress injuries or cumulative trauma injuries. The symptoms may not be serious when the condition starts, so they often go ignored.
As referenced above, this type of injury can result from repetitive motions, like one might encounter on an assembly line, typing and using a computer, or working a cash register; it can also result from extended use of power tools and hand tools that cause vibration in the hands or from pushing or slicing objects without sufficient breaks. Assembly jobs and warehousing jobs are common sources of carpal tunnel injury. Keep in mind that the longer carpal tunnel syndrome goes untreated the worse it gets, leading to possible need for surgery and even permanent damage.
Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If your symptoms force you to seek medical treatment or prevent you from working, then you need to file a workers’ compensation claim. According to a report from the CDC, 36% of carpal tunnel syndrome cases require long term treatment, and those medical bills can pile up quickly.
Under Pennsylvania workers’ compensation law, carpal tunnel syndrome is classified as a repetitive stress injury and is one of the more common examples of such an injury. If your carpal tunnel syndrome injury is related to your work, then you may be eligible for wage loss benefits (total or partial disability benefits) and reimbursement of your related medical expenses not including copays.
In order for your carpal tunnel syndrome to be considered a work-related injury, you will need to clearly show that your condition is directly related to your work activities. You will likely need the testimony of a medical professional to support your workers’ compensation claim. Other factors that come into play are how long you have been at your current job, the average number of hours you work, and what kind of repetitive motions are a part of your job responsibilities.These are all crucial aspects of workers’ compensation claims involving a repetitive stress injury. You can expect the workers’ compensation insurance company to try to blame your carpal tunnel syndrome on other factors outside of work, including recreational activities such as tennis or bowling.
Workers’ compensation law in the state of Pennsylvania does cover carpal tunnel syndrome, classifying it as a repetitive stress injury. As such, if you develop the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and can tie them to the type of work you do for your employer, you can file a workers’ compensation claim and potentially receive benefits. However, you must expect that your employer or the insurance company will do their best to cast doubt on the validity of your claim by trying to tie carpal tunnel syndrome with your other activities outside of work.
Donaghue & Labrum Can Help
If you have the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and are thinking about filing for workers’ compensation, contact Donaghue & Labrum. Our firm has over 30 years of legal experience. We represent our clients vigorously in workers’ compensation cases, including those related to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries. Contact us today!