As a St. Louis, Missouri Workers’ Compensation lawyer, I have seen my share of carpal tunnel syndrome cases. These repetitive trauma injuries were much less common when I began practicing back in the l980’s. Computers have taken over our lives and they now dominate many work places. Secretaries and typists often spend a great deal of time working on computer keyboards. Unlike injuries where there is a sudden, severe onset, carpal tunnel syndrome can slowly and gradually inch up on you.
Most people who have repetitive jobs such as typists, assembly line workers, and machine operators will start off with mild symptoms. This may include numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers. Workers often describe it as a “pins and needles” sensation. At first, the symptoms may go away whenever the worker is away from repetitive work. Eventually, the symptoms may start affecting the worker away from the jobsite. Many workers will complain that they can’t sleep at night because their hands fall asleep. There is often muscle weakness or “muscle atrophy” which occurs on the palm side of the hand under the thumb. Oftentimes, injured workers will complain that they have lost their grip strength and some will even complain that they have a tendency to drop things.
The major occupational cause of carpal tunnel is generally “repetitive motion”. This may cause an increase of pressure on the median nerve and the tendons in the carpal tunnel. Insurance companies will often try to argue that certain risk factors should prevent injured workers from making carpal tunnel claims. For example, women are three times more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. It is generally thought that the carpal tunnel itself is smaller in woman than in men, but there are no definitive answers as to why women are so much more susceptible. Other medical conditions such as diabetes and thyroid conditions can complicate matters and insurance companies will generally deny cases where these factors exist.
If an injured worker suspects that he may have carpal tunnel syndrome, he should contact his physician. There are specific examination tests which a doctor can perform in order to determine whether carpal tunnel syndrome is present. If a doctor concludes that there are positive findings, he will generally follow up with nerve testing and will order an EMG (electromyography), or a nerve conduction study. These tests generally involve placing a fine needle into the muscle in order to measure the electrical activity.
If carpal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed, it can oftentimes be treated with non-surgical methods. Anti-inflammatory medications often provide relief and stretching and strengthening exercises can sometimes be helpful. If these methods are unsuccessful, surgery may be necessary. Carpal tunnel release surgery can be performed using the “endoscopic” method which is less invasive, or it can be done through an “open release”. Hand surgeons have different views about which method is preferable and it is helpful to talk to your doctor about these options.
As a Missouri “Work Comp” attorney, I can say that it has been my experience that insurance companies will find the slightest excuse in order to deny a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome. If you suspect that your condition is work-related, you should not be discouraged. With the help of a good St. Louis Workers’ Compensation lawyer, you may be able to ultimately prevail on your claim.