Carpal tunnel surgery, also called “carpal tunnel release surgery” (CTR) and “carpal tunnel decompression surgery,” is a surgery used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes a variety of symptoms. They are especially a problem because they may interfere with a person’s ability to work, especially with computers. Among the symptoms are the following:
- Numbness or tingling in a person’s hands and fingers;
- An occasional feeling of having had an electric shock
- Weakness in the hand that can cause a person to drop things;
- Pain in the hand and wrist that can travel up the arm to the shoulder;
- A burning feeling in the fingers.
These symptoms can be severe, and as a person’s CTS worsens, they may never experience relief from their symptoms.
Inside a person’s wrist and hand, there is a narrow passageway called the “carpal tunnel.” A person’s median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel from the wrist to the hand. This nerve provides sensation in most of a person’s fingers and controls the muscles at the base of the thumb.
When the carpal tunnel narrows or when tendons in the wrist swell, tissue around the flexor tendons swells, putting pressure on the median nerve. The pressure on the median nerve, in turn, affects blood flow, and this leads to CTS.
Doctors recommend CRT surgery when a patient suffers constant numbness and muscle weakness or atrophy. In addition, other treatments may not have relieved the patient’s symptoms. So, for example, night-splinting may no longer offer relief from pain in the carpal tunnel.
Generally, mild cases of CTS can be managed for months or even years with non-invasive treatments. Severe cases, however, plague the sufferer with symptoms, and then surgery might be necessary to provide relief.
Carpal tunnel syndrome statistics reveal that about half a million surgical procedures for CRT are performed every year. The condition is estimated to have an annual economic impact of $2 billion annually.
Is Carpal Tunnel Surgery Covered by Workers’ Compensation?
Whether CTR is covered by the workers’ compensation system in the state in which a person lives depends on the cause of a person’s CTS.
Many different kinds of accidents or activities can cause CTS. Among the possible causes are the following:
- Repetitive Motion: If a person repeats the same motions or moves with their hand and wrist again and again, this can cause a person’s tendons to become swollen. The swollen tendons place pressure on the nerve in the carpal tunnel, which causes CTS;
- Accidents: Accidents that cause injuries, such as wrist fractures, can narrow the carpal tunnel and could lead to CTS;
- Medical Conditions: Arthritis is an example of a physical condition that can cause the swelling and inflammation of CTS;
- Heredity: Some people are born with a narrower carpal tunnel, which can make them prone to developing the syndrome.
Women more often suffer from CTS than men, but anyone can develop the condition, especially people who have the risk factors.
If a person were to develop CTS because of repetitive motions they make in the course of their employment, or because they are involved in an accident on the job, then they would have a claim for workers compensation in the state in which they live.
On the other hand, if they were to develop CTS because of a repetitive motion, an accident, a medical condition, or a hereditary risk factor that is unrelated to their employment, they would not have a claim for workers’ compensation.
A person can develop CTS because they are involved in an accident on the job and fractured their wrist. Or if their job requires repetitive wrist or hand motions, this can lead to CTS.
If a person’s median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel is affected in some way because of their work-related activities, they can develop CTS. People in certain professions are especially likely to develop CTS. These include the following:
- Assembly-line Workers: People who work on assembly lines are especially likely to make repetitive motions that can lead to CTS;
- Musicians: People who play certain musical instruments are prone to CTS;
- Keyboard Use: People who spend a lot of time typing on keyboards or using a computer mouse, such as writers or data entry professionals, are more likely to develop CTS;
- Clothing Manufacture: Tailors, seamstresses, or others who engage in sewing routinely; are prone to CTS;
- Agricultural Workers;
- Workers Who Routinely Use Vibrating Tools.
Again, as noted above, if a person’s carpal tunnel occurs as a result of their job duties, they can submit a workers’ compensation claim. To succeed with a claim, a person would have to show the following:
- CTS: The person has the symptoms of CTS to the degree that they have had to see a doctor and/or it interferes with their ability to do their job;
- On the Job Accident or Repetitive Motion: The person’s job duties caused their CTS to develop or worsen. This was because of repetitive motion or an accident in which the person suffered a broken wrist.
To succeed with a workers’ compensation claim, a person does not need to show negligence on the part of their employer or anyone else. Rather they must only prove that they suffer from CTS because of their job responsibilities or an on-the-job accident.
If a person is disabled by CTS, they may want to consult a disability rights lawyer regarding disability laws and the protections they offer the person on the job.
Work Accident vs. Occupational Illness
An occupational illness or disease is just what the phrase suggests, an illness or disease that a person develops results from the unique characteristics of their employment. For example, coal miners often develop black lung disease because they breathe in coal dust in the course of mining coal.
In many cases, a large number of workers in the same job or industry develop the same illnesses because they are all exposed to the same hazards as part of their employment. Occupational illness is often the result of a person working in unsafe working conditions. A repetitive strain injury is a type of occupational illness.
A work accident is a sudden event. If a person is involved, they sustain an injury in the course of the accident, e.g., a broken wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can result from either an accident or repeated stress, or repetitive motion.
What if I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome After an Accident off the Job?
If a person develops CTS after an accident that did not involve their job duties, e.g., a car accident or a sports activity, they may still have a personal injury claim against some person or entity. For example, if a person breaks their wrist in a slip and fall accident at a grocery store, they may have a claim against the owner of the store premises.
So, the fact that a person has not developed CTS on the job means that they do not have a workers’ compensation claim. However, they may have a claim for negligence or strict product liability against another entity that caused or contributed to their accident.
A person may have had CTS and then had CTR to treat it. If the results of the surgery have not improved the person’s symptoms or have even made them worse, they would want to consult a personal injury lawyer about the possibility of a lawsuit for medical malpractice.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Carpal Tunnel Issue?
If you believe that you have developed CTS in the course of your employment, either because of repetitive motion or an accident that injured your wrist, you want to consult a workers’ compensation lawyer.
If you developed CTS after an accident that happened off the job, e.g., a car accident or perhaps during a sports activity, you want to consult a personal injury lawyer.
Consider that you have had carpal tunnel release surgery, and it did not provide relief from your symptoms or left you feeling even worse. In that case, you want to consult a medical malpractice lawyer about the possibility that you have a claim against your surgeon or other healthcare providers for medical malpractice.