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Exploring Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – A Real Pain!

Colorado attorney R. Mack Babcock and associates discuss causes, symptoms and treatments for this common occupational condition

Talking about a pain… a real pain in the wrist!  Carpal tunnel is known as one of the leading occupational diseases. Unlike an injury that traces its roots to a single event, an occupational disease or condition occurs over time. Thoracic outlet syndrome is another example of this type of condition.

What exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS?  The National Institute of Health states that it is a condition in which there is excessive pressure on the median nerve.  This is the nerve in the wrist that allows feeling and movement to parts of the hand. 

The name of this condition comes from the fact that the area in your wrist where the nerve enters your hand is called the carpal tunnel.  This is a very narrow tunnel and some people that suffer from this syndrome were actually born with a very small tunnel.  There are many tendons and ligaments that cover this area.  When these tendons begin to swell into the tunnel area, the pain can sometimes be excruciating.

There are a variety of jobs in which people have suffered carpal tunnel due to their duties.   

In the past, repetitive typing was blamed as the top work-related cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research from the Mayo Clinic and others casts much doubt on this claim – although many CTS patients spend many hours on a computer, it's unclear that it's the cause of their pain.

However, there are a variety of other jobs and tasks with a clear link to CTS, including:

  • Assembly line workers
  • Barbers
  • Musicians
  • Drivers
  • Laborers who are always using tools like jackhammers, chippers, drills, chainsaws and hammers

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

CTS is caused by making repetitive motions in the wrist area.  There are other issues that lead to carpal tunnel besides job duties.  Some of these include alcohol abuse, infections, pregnancy, arthritis, obesity and a cyst or tumor in the wrist. However, diabetes takes the prize as the leading non-work cause of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Therefore, it is vital to report when you feel the way you do because there are a lot of reasons carpal tunnel comes about.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are a variety of symptoms with CTS, including:

  • Numbness and tingling in the thumb and palm area
  • Clumsiness in grasping items
  • Pain extending to the elbow
  • Severe pain in the wrist
  • Inability to grip something firmly
  • ….and other issues

Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A doctor may recommend a variety of treatments.  Many sufferers of CTS get better over time but half actually require surgery.  It can take months of healing after surgery but if CTS isn't treated, the nerve can be damaged where it causes permanent tingling and numbness issues.  Other treatments besides surgery are cold/warm compresses and not sleeping on wrists and splints.  There are medications that can help with the pain as well.

Before a doctor can make a recommendation, they will likely need to take X-rays, CT scans and a MRI.

How do you handle this with an employer?

As soon as you feel the pain, you must immediately report this to your employer.  Let them know you think repetitive motions in your job are causing this pain.

Are there changes that can be made in the workplace to reduce stress on your wrist?

There are, but definitely discuss these with your employer.  Have someone review the position in which you are sitting to make certain that your keyboard is low enough where you are not bending your wrists upward while typing.  There are also special keyboards, mousepads and other things that can be purchased to help with your duties.  Certain circumstances may require you to make total changes in your work duties for a while. 

CTS can happen to anyone but is most common among women and people ages 30 to 60. 

To learn more about occupational diseases like carpal tunnel, how you should report it and more, check out our (PDF) e-book, or visit our page about obtaining work injury benefits in Colorado.

And if you're suffering from an occupational condition like carpal tunnel, we strongly urge you to contact us after reporting the situation to your employer. In the end, having an attorney is the best way to ensure you receive the treatment and compensation you need.

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