Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a serious medical ailment affecting the hands and fingers, which can originate from repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work activities. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually begin with a tingling sensation in the palm of the hand or between the thumb and index finger of the predominantly used hand. It will develop – if not treated – into a painful condition where the sufferer experiences a frequent burning sensation or shooting pains in their wrists and loss of feeling in their hands.

Chronic carpal tunnel syndrome can cause the sufferer to lose the ability to grip small items, form a fist and perform manual tasks and, in the worse case scenarios, the muscles at the base of the thumb waste away and some people may not be able to distinguish the sensation of hot and cold by touch. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressively debilitating condition. It is not a complaint that will manifest overnight, and the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome have to be present over a protracted period of time for it to develop into a major problem for the sufferer.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a passageway within the wrist, with the floor and walls of the tunnel formed by the eight carpal bones of the wrist, and a roof formed by the carpal ligament, which stretches across the carpal bones. Within this tunnel there are a series of tendons which run from your forearm to your fingers and thumb, and a nerve – called the median nerve – which is about the width of a pencil and which transmits information back to the brain about sensations you feel in your thumb, index finger and middle finger.

There are a number of causes of carpal tunnel syndrome which can either act independently or combine to create the problem. If you suffer from diabetes, fluid retention or have previously broken a wrist, you are more likely to acquire carpal tunnel syndrome in a work environment in which you engage in repetitive or forceful hand movements. However, carpal tunnel syndrome can develop without these accelerators in situations where pressure is placed on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel – often because the tendons which also travel through the carpal tunnel have become swollen through repetitive use.

Who is Most Likely to Suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Whereas much carpal tunnel syndrome related media attention has, in the past, been devoted to employees whose tasks include monotonous data entry on computers, more ergonomically designed computer hardware has led to carpal tunnel syndrome becoming less of a problem with an office environment. However, employees still at risk of acquiring carpal tunnel syndrome at work include assembly line workers, those involved in manufacturing, sewing, cleaning and food packing.

Women are three times more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome at work than men – due to their naturally thinner wrists and consequently thinner carpal tunnels – and carpal tunnel syndrome is hardly heard of in people less than thirty years of age. It is estimated that carpal tunnel syndrome affects three out of 10,000 employees each year, with the majority missing more than ten days from work because of their injury: plus there is the added potential for the reoccurrence of the condition when the employee returns to work.

What are the Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

As carpal tunnel syndrome is not an easy complaint to diagnose, a doctor will make a clinical assessment using the patient’s medical history and electrophysiological testing, and usually then refer the patient to a rheumatology or neurology specialist. Although each case will be considered individually, and non-occupational factors considered and investigated, once the specialist is aware you have an occupation which involves repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist, he is most likely to confirm a doctor’s diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome depend on how advanced the condition has become. Anti-inflammatory drugs, cortisone injections, exercises and chiropractic treatment may be all that is necessary to reduce your symptoms, and these will be recommended along with a period of rest away from the activity which is causing the carpal tunnel syndrome. More severe cases will require open-release or endoscopic surgery to cut the carpal ligament and release the pressure on the median nerve.

What Can be Done to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Better work practices are the key to reducing carpal tunnel syndrome in the workplace. Employers have a duty of care under the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act to provide a safe environment for their employees to work in, and inasmuch as advances have been made in the office environment to ensure that keyboards, computer mice and seating arrangements are designed in such a way as to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, these practices should be extended to other areas of the workplace.

Guidelines published by the Health and Safety Authority suggest that each job within a workplace should have a risk assessment made for it, with an action plan where necessary of how the employer is going to reduce the risk of injury to his staff. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, this should include frequent breaks from repetitive tasks, developing programs in ergonomics and adapting workplace conditions and the demands of the job to the capabilities of workers.

I Think I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – What Should I Do?

If you think that you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your first course of action should be to visit your local doctor. Once you have advised him that you have symptoms which might be related to your occupation, he will conduct the initial tests and then refer you to a specialist for confirmation of his diagnosis. If the specialist agrees that you have carpal tunnel syndrome induced by poor work practices, then you should see a solicitor in respect of claiming compensation for your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a recognised industrial injury for employees who regularly use power tools and are involved in other aspects of manufacturing, and a solicitor will be able to determine whether your personal circumstances entitle you to claim compensation for acquiring carpal tunnel syndrome. If it can be proven that work practices promoted by your employer have led to you developing carpal tunnel syndrome, you should be able to claim compensation for your injuries.

Claiming Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Claiming compensation for carpal tunnel syndrome is done in exactly the same way as any personal injury claim, with an initial application to the Injuries Board Ireland and an independent medical examination. Even though musculoskeletal disorders are covered in the Injuries Board Ireland´s “Book of Quantum”, you may wish to have a solicitor familiar with personal injury claims of this nature complete your application form to ensure that all aspects and consequences of your injury are included.

As well as being able to claim compensation for the physical trauma you may have experienced through your carpal tunnel syndrome, you might also be able to claim special damages for any out of pocket expenses you may have encountered making doctor´s appointments and travelling to see a specialist. Furthermore, when making a claim for carpal tunnel syndrome compensation against an employer, being represented by a solicitor makes it less likely that you will experience an awkward workplace confrontation when able to return to work.

Finalising Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Assessments for carpal tunnel syndrome are made by the Injuries Board Ireland subject to your employer admitting liability for your injuries. Should he fail to do so, the Injuries Board Ireland will issue you with an authorisation to pursue your claim in the courts. Other reasons that litigation may be necessary are if your employer claims that you contributed to your injuries through your own actions, or if either party disputes the assessment of the Injuries Board Ireland in respect of the amount of your carpal tunnel syndrome compensation.

Whilst recovering from your carpal tunnel syndrome injury, you may also be approached by your employer´s insurance company with an offer of early settlement. This act is known as “third party capture” and is an attempt by the insurance company to save money on compensation payments by offering you an immediate payment, in return for accepting an amount less than they anticipate will be assessed by the Injuries Board Ireland. As with cases that go to the courts for litigation, a solicitor will be able to advise you on the best course of action to follow in this instance.

Summary

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a painful and immobilising disease if allowed to deteriorate over a period of time, and it is always in your best interests to seek medical attention at the earliest possible opportunity. Where the carpal tunnel syndrome can be attributed to your working conditions, you should speak with a solicitor about seeking compensation for your injury because, even if it is a minor complaint on this occasion, the carpal tunnel syndrome could return in the future if no improvements are made to your working environment.

Even though the Statute of Limitations allows two years (from the date when you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome) in which to make a claim for compensation, you should not delay in contacting a solicitor. Cases of this nature may often be complex and take time to resolve, and a lengthy preparation of your case due to medical tests may result in it becoming time-barred.

Summary

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful wrist complaint caused by protracted and repetitive movements of the wrist and hands.
  • Usually developed in a work environment, chronic carpal tunnel syndrome can deteriorate until the sufferer loses their ability to grip.
  • Employees involved in data entry, assembly line production, sewing, cleaning and packing are most vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe environment in which to work and, when they fail to do so, you are entitled to claim compensation for carpel tunnel syndrome injury.
  • Compensation claims for carpel tunnel syndrome are made through the Injuries Board Ireland in the same way as any personal injury sustained at work.
  • Claims for carpal tunnel syndrome compensation are best made with the assistance of a solicitor if you wish to avoid the potential for an awkward workplace confrontation with your employer.

 

Special Disclaimer

This article should not be taken as medical advice – you should always see a doctor as soon as possible. The information in this article is only to provide a broad understanding of the topic and is not in any way complete. Due to the rapidly changing nature of medical research regarding carpal tunnel syndrome and treatment, the Legal Advice Ireland can not be held responsible for the reliability, accuracy, timeliness, usefulness, and completeness of the content. You should never ignore medical advice from a doctor. You should never self-manage any health problems. You should always see a doctor as soon as possible if you have any carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms.

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