Source: Wikipedia

Are you suffering from aching or pain in your fingers, hand or arm? Are you experiencing numbness or pins and needles in your hands? Do you have weakness in your fingers and thumbs? Are you having difficulty gripping? If you have any of these symptoms, then you could be suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you perform repetitive tasks at work, use hand held power tools or have experienced a single trauma to the wrist at work, your symptoms may be the result of a work-related injury.

Here we take a look at what carpal tunnel syndrome is, the common causes, instances where it could be related to your job and what you can do about it.

What exactly is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in the wrist protecting the median nerve. The median nerve is one of three major nerves in the forearm and controls the thumb and first three fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the carpal passage gets inflamed and squeezes or pinches the nerve. The compression of the nerve results in weakness, numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers. The problem is to do with available space within the carpal tunnel rather than the nerve itself.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome tend to start slowly and can come and go. Symptoms are often worse at night, when pain can cause disruption to sleep.

What are the common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?

The most common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome are:

  • Autoimmune illnesses, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism or arthritis
  • Fluid retention in pregnancy or menopause
  • Genetic predisposition
  • A previous wrist injury
  • Repetitive work or hobbies where the wrist is repeatedly being bent

Is carpal tunnel syndrome work-related?

While the causal connection with many workplace injuries is obvious, with carpal tunnel syndrome proving the injury is work-related is generally more difficult. (See this free guide at McCarthy & Co.) This is usually because of its insidious onset. There are also other health factors that may be contributing to the condition. Insurers and employers generally argue that the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is never clear.

You will also need to consider if you have any hobbies, such as sewing, knitting or mechanics that are contributing to or are the sole cause of the problem.

What kind of tasks at work cause carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can occur as the result of any repetitive work where the wrist is repeatedly bent or over-used. Jobs where carpal tunnel syndrome is more common include assembly line work, meat and poultry packing, mechanics using ratchets, screw drivers and power tools, jobs that involve sewing, jobs using vibrating tools, hand weeding, dental hygienists using small tools, massage therapy, hairdressing and cleaning.

There is also increasing evidence that intense computer for several hours a day over a number of years can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Source: Wikipedia

Can I claim compensation from my employer for work-related carpal tunnel syndrome?

In terms of making a claim for compensation from your employer for carpal tunnel syndrome, it can be difficult to prove your employer is at fault. Claims for carpal tunnel syndrome are generally looked upon with suspicion by employers.

However, there is growing evidence to prove that the syndrome can be related to work duties and there have been many successful cases against employers.

It is important to begin your claim as soon as you are aware you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Always seek the professional advice of a solicitor with experience in work-related injury cases.

Is there a time limit on bringing a claim against my employer for carpal tunnel syndrome?

Yes. There are different time limits within which you must make a claim for accidents at work or personal injury claims. The most common claim in the UK for personal injury is negligence. The time limit for this is three years from the first knowledge of the injury.

In Ireland, the Statute of limitations provides that you have two years from the date you learned that you had suffered a significant injury within which to bring a claim.

What evidence will I need?

You will need to prove negligence due to inappropriate working conditions, lack of protective equipment, insufficient breaks from vibrating machinery, lack of training, or lack of risk assessments. You will also need medical reports.

It is a good idea to consult a solicitor as soon as possible and seek their advice before making any claim.

If I am awarded compensation, what will the payout include?

If the claim against your employer is successful, compensation can include amounts for:

  • Any medical treatment
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of amenity
  • Loss of current and future earnings
  • Expenses related to on-going care

Compensation varies depending on the severity of the injury and whether or not there are any long-term effects.

What treatment is available for carpal tunnel syndrome?

If the condition is diagnosed early, treatments include:

  • Wrist splints
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Corticosteroids

If symptoms are severe or don’t respond to the treatments above, surgery may be appropriate. Surgery can be open or by endoscopy. The operation involves cutting the ligament to free the nerve.

Is there anything else I can do to make my symptoms better?

There are a few lifestyle changes you can make which may help to reduce symptoms. These are:

  • REST – take regular short breaks from repetitive activities
  • Applying cool packs
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Try exercises that rotate your wrists and stretch your palms and fingertips
  • Avoid sleeping on your hands
  • Wear a wrist splint at night
  • Follow an anti-inflammatory diet

Alternative therapies you can try that may improve symptoms include acupuncture, laser therapy, ultrasound therapy and chiropractic. See here for more information on work-related upper limb disorders.

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