If you have tingling, numbness or weakness in your hand, thumb or fingers, you may have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). The disorder is also characterized by difficulty moving fingers and gripping objects, and is accompanied by pain in your fingers, hand, wrist or arm.
Pressure from repetitive motion injury creates swelling in the median nerve in the wrist. The swelling constricts the nerves, tendons and ligaments, leading to the symptoms described above. Repetitive motion injuries (also called repetitive stress injury or RSI) like typing cause carpal tunnel syndrome, and so does arthritis.
To obtain disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome or any disorder, patients must meet the criteria in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) book of impairment listings known as the Blue Book. Keep in mind that disability is determined by your inability to work due to your injury. Unfortunately, the SSA does not typically rule in favor of awarding disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome. They typically find that the disability is not severe enough to warrant disability payments, so they don’t have specific impairment listings for this disorder.
Other Ways To Obtain Benefits
However, there are three other ways you might qualify for disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome. First, if you can show that you equal or meet an impairment listing in another area, SSA might consider you for disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, you can apply under an impairment listing for soft tissue damage or nerve damage like peripheral neuropathy. The SSA requirements are still difficult to meet, but it is worth a try. Some people have obtained benefits this way, for severe nerve damage or for ligament damage that has caused them to lose function in the wrists and hands.
The second way you can apply for disability benefits for carpal tunnel syndrome is if your CTS is a secondary symptom of another disease such as arthritis. There are several diseases that include carpal tunnel as a symptom, including arthritis, diabetes and kidney failure, as well as lupus and scleroderma. You would apply for disability under the primary listing and list your carpal tunnel as a related condition.
The third is called a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment whereby you can show you’re your CTS creates limitations severe enough to leave you unable to work. SSA will assess your ability to perform your job and the level of physical exertion you are able to muster. Then, they’ll classify you in a range of jobs (sedentary work, light work, heavy work, etc.) and determine your ability to perform jobs in that category.
Regardless of how you file, you will need medical evidence. First, you’ll need a clear diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, which can sometimes be difficult to obtain. The SSA will want to see evidence that one or more of the following diagnostic tests has been completed:
· Electromyography to measure electrical activity
· Imaging, like ultrasounds and MRIs
· A thumb weakness test
· A pressure provocation test (wrist and hand)
· A Phalen’s test
· A tourniquet test of cuff pressure applied to the wrist
· Tinel’s sign test of the median nerve
· Nerve conduction study to measure nerve transmission through the wrist and hand
The SSA will also want to see that you’ve tried CTS treatments like wearing a splint or taking medication. In our experience, we’ve found that hiring a lawyer to obtain disability benefits is particularly useful in cases like carpal tunnel syndrome where the SSA does not list impairments and instead you have to qualify for the benefits in other ways.