Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that affects roughly 3-6% of American adults, according to the AAFP. This condition is caused by compression of the median nerve. Overall, carpal tunnel syndrome can limit your dexterous movements at work, such as typing or fine motor skills. Many people that live with this condition can see a reduction in workplace efficiency, and an increase in pain and symptoms during the workday. But is it considered a disability? Can you get benefits from a disability insurance claim for carpal tunnel? Is your carpal tunnel severe enough to be a disability?
Before filing a long-term disability insurance claim for carpal tunnel syndrome, there are a few things you should know, which may increase your approval chances.
Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome a Disability?
Yes, carpal tunnel syndrome can be considered a long-term disability in some cases. Generally, the syndrome causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the wrists, hands, and fingers. Depending on the severity of your condition, this can be a minor irritation or severe debilitation.
In order for your insurance company to deem your carpal tunnel syndrome as a disability, they will look at 2 factors. Firstly, they will look at the severity of your symptoms. Next, they will determine how your symptoms limit your ability to perform work tasks. If your occupation requires a lot of typing, writing, or other tasks involving your affected hands or fingers, you may qualify for long-term disability benefits.
However, in order to obtain these benefits, you will first have to convince the insurance company of how your condition negatively affects your work. Working alongside an experienced disability attorney is a good way to make sure you build a solid foundation for your claim.
Inability to Work Because of Carpal Tunnel
Generally, the insurance company will need you to show how your condition prevents you from working. This will often require explanations and examples of how your condition limits your capabilities in the workplace. For example, if you are a surgeon living with carpal tunnel syndrome, you may not have the dexterity, grip strength, or functionality in your hands to continue performing your tasks safely at work.
While your condition may not fully prevent you from doing all of your work tasks, it may limit your ability to get tasks done in a timely fashion. Your condition may require you to take frequent breaks from typing or writing, for example.
Before filing a claim for your condition, it is important to discuss your condition with your doctors, as well as a disability attorney. Your doctors can work with you to identify work tasks that may need to be limited or eliminated because of your condition. Furthermore, your disability attorney can help you take stock of the limitations of your condition.
Medical Evidence Needed to Prove Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a Disability
In order to receive approval for disability benefits, the insurance company will need to see objective evidence of your condition. This can include documented symptoms, clinical testing, examinations, and more.
Documentation of Carpal Tunnel Symptoms
The insurance company will want to see documentation of your symptoms, such as in your medical records. Generally, these will include all of the common carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Your doctor should have notes regarding shooting pain in the wrists, as well as numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in wrists, hands, and/or fingers. Additionally, you should report to them if you struggle with gripping or holding items because of such sensations.
Be sure to report any symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome to your doctor, so they have a proper record of your condition. Even if your symptoms are intermittent, you should explain to your doctor if any of your symptoms are triggered or exacerbated by tasks from your job. Some symptoms may affect one or both hands, so be sure to discuss how your condition affects each hand.
Before any comprehensive medical testing for carpal tunnel, your doctor will likely perform a clinical examination. A clinical examination would include the doctor asking a series of questions regarding your symptoms and pain. They may also follow this with a sensory examination, as well as a motor examination. Your doctor may also perform one or more of the following clinical testing procedures for carpal tunnel:
- Carpal compression test
- Hoffman-Tinel sign
- Palpatory test
- Phalen sign
- Square wrist test
Each of these may be important in diagnosing your condition. They can also provide substantial evidence to support your disability claim.
Your doctor may recommend further testing for a more objective diagnosis. These can be important in ensuring that you are being properly diagnosed. Furthermore, these tests can also provide objective medical evidence for your long-term disability claim. There are 2 primary tests that may be effective in supporting your diagnosis. These are the Electromyogram (EMG) and the Nerve Conduction Velocity Study (NCV).
The EMG is a diagnostic testing procedure that assesses the health of muscles and the associated nerve cells. This test is generally used to help identify muscle or nerve dysfunction. It can also find signal transmission issues between the muscle and nerves. This test achieves these results by quantifying the electrical activity in the nerves as they respond to stimuli.
An NCV test measures the speed at which electrical impulses in the nerves are conducted. The results of this test can help reliably diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also be a good idea to consider an NCV if the results from your EMG were inconclusive.
Appropriate Treatment for Your Carpal Tunnel
As with most long-term disability insurance policies, your insurance company will likely want to ensure that you are receiving proper treatment for your condition. It is important to continue following the treatment prescribed by your doctor, and regularly going to doctor appointments as needed. Otherwise, the insurance company may claim that you are acting in non-compliance, and may cease your benefits. There are several ways that your doctor can provide treatment for this condition. You will likely be prescribed one or more of the following:
- Corticosteroids in oral form or injections
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Wrist splinting or other stabilization
If your condition is severe or debilitating enough, your doctor may recommend carpal tunnel release surgery. The surgical procedure involves cutting the ligament near the median nerve of the wrist. This helps relieve the pressure and stress on the affected nerves. Generally, the ligaments grow back while leaving more space for the nerves than before. Some patients find near-immediate relief from carpal tunnel syndrome after the surgery. However, the recovery period for this surgery can take up to a few months.
Proving Your Inability to Work with Your Condition
In order to be considered disabled by your insurance company, you must be able to prove that you are unable to properly perform your work tasks because of your carpal tunnel syndrome. The insurance company will likely determine this by comparing your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) with the demands of your job. Residual Functional Capacity refers to your ability to perform certain work tasks. Generally, this will look at the frequency and length that you can perform these tasks given your condition. An example would be determining how long you can type without pain or numbness in your hand. This is often determined by how you report your symptoms to your doctor, which is why it is important to be detailed and thorough in doing so.
After determining your RFC, your insurance company will determine the capacity needed to perform your job. Often, they will ask your employer to provide a detailed description of your job duties. Unfortunately, a job description alone may not fully encompass all of the tasks that you have to do on a daily basis. Because of this, it is important to communicate with the insurance company all of the daily tasks that you do during the work day. Your disability attorney can help you with this step.
The insurance company will compile this info and compare your daily workload with your RFC. If your job requires more than what your RFC can allow, your insurance company will likely consider you disabled.
Proving Your Ongoing Disability for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The symptoms of your carpal tunnel syndrome may improve over time, especially with proper treatment. Because of this, your insurance company may require proof that your condition is still debilitating. This can be satisfied with clinical testing from your doctor, but you may be asked to go for another EMG or NCV study. If you are unable to show proof of ongoing disability, your insurance company may choose to terminate your benefits.