Are you suffering from occupational carpal tunnel syndrome?
Learn about your workers’ compensation rights in Georgia.
Many workers perform the same task over and over again for their employer. Some people work on an assembly line, performing the same task repetitively. No matter how mundane or easy the task may be, any type of repetitive movement can lead to an injury.
Here at the law offices of Gerber & Holder, our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys often get calls from workers who have injured their hands while performing work for their employer. A common injury that results from repetitive movement and use of the upper extremities, specifically in the hands, is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
In this article we will explore what carpal tunnel syndrome is, what causes CTS, how to determine if someone has carpal tunnel, and what can be done to treat it.
What is carpal tunnel?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hands and arms. This condition occurs when the median nerve to the hand is squeezed or compressed as it travels to through the wrist. The median nerve begins at the neck, travels down the upper extremity through the forearm and eventually through the wrist.
The median nerve is the only nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel, which is on the palm side of the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway, only about an inch wide. The tunnel is formed by small wrist bones called “carpal” bones.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tunnel becomes narrowed or the tissues surrounding the flexor tendons swell, putting pressure on the median nerve. When the swelling occurs, the carpal tunnel gets crowded. Over time, this can place pressure on the nerve. This pressure can result in pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand. This pain typically lingers and doesn’t go away on its own.
Signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include difficulty holding items, dropping items and a reduction in finger grip/pinch strength. People with carpal tunnel syndrome also have numbness and tingling in their fingers. They may have a hard time buttoning clothes, or picking up small objects such as coins. Furthermore, they experience swelling in their hands and wrists at night.
Common causes of CTS
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by a number of different factors, but here are the 5 most common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Hereditary condition
- Health problems
- Repetitive use
- Hand and wrist position
The first three causes aren’t generally work-related. When a woman is pregnant, hormonal changes caused by the pregnancy can cause swelling in the wrists, which leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Some people are born with smaller carpal tunnels, and there may be hereditary reasons why the space for the nerve is smaller in certain families. In addition, existing health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. These conditions aren’t always work-related.
If, however, job-related activities cause carpal tunnel syndrome, this type of injury will fall under the umbrella of workers’ compensation — even if there is a family history of carpal tunnel syndrome or there is a pre-existing condition.
Work-related carpal tunnel syndrome
Repetitive use can cause occupational carpal tunnel syndrome. Doing the same hand and wrist motions or activities over a long period of time may cause the tendons in the wrist to become inflamed. This can increase pressure on the nerve and result in CTS symptoms. Individuals who work on a production line, for example, typically perform the same task over and over again, which leads to an increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
The position of an individual’s hands and wrists while they work is a very important factor in carpal tunnel syndrome. Performing activities that involve extreme flexing of your hand or wrist, or prolonged extension of the hand and wrist, can increase pressure on your nerve. A prime example if this is a typist or office worker who doesn’t have an ergonomic work space. Their wrists may be constantly flexing to type, which leads to nerve entrapment.
Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome
There are multiple ways to determine if an individual has carpal tunnel syndrome. Electrophysiological tests and other imaging tests can be performed to determine what the nature of the injury is. Electrophysiological tests help to determine how well the median nerve is working and if there is pressure on the nerve.
These tests will help the doctor determine whether the condition is carpal tunnel syndrome or another type of nerve compression. These tests include nerve conduction studies and electromyograms (EMGs). Nerve conduction tests measure the signals traveling in the nerves of the hand and arm, and they can detect when a nerve isn’t conducting its signal effectively. An EMG measures the electrical activity in muscles. They can demonstrate whether there is nerve or muscle damage.
Other imaging tests that can be performed are ultrasounds, X-rays, or MRIs. An ultrasound shows a picture of bone and tissue which can reveal the width of your carpal tunnel. X-rays can show whether the injury is caused by a bone or ligament damage. MRIs show better images of soft tissues and can demonstrate tissues that may be impacting the medial nerve. They can also show whether there is damage to the nerve itself.
Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment
Carpal tunnel syndrome will worsen over time without some form of treatment. Treatment doesn’t always entail surgery. Non-surgical treatment options include bracing or splinting to prevent the wrist from bending, which may alleviate the pressure on the median nerve. Medication can also relieve pain and inflammation. Activity modification can change behavior, which may prevent further damage to occur.
If these treatment options don’t work, surgery is also an option. A procedure known as a “carpal tunnel release” removes the pressure on the median nerve and hopefully relieves the symptoms the individual is experiencing. The surgery requires a period of time of healing, and physical therapy afterwards to strengthen the wrist and hand. During this healing period, you may need to take time off of work and seek temporary disability benefits.
Contact an experienced Atlanta work injury attorney
If you have any questions about carpal tunnel syndrome as it relates to workers’ compensation, don’t hesitate to contact the passionate lawyers at Gerber & Holder. We have over 50 years of combined experience representing injured workers in and around Atlanta and Athens. Let us help you.