Can You Get Disability for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
If you have ever experienced numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness in your fingers, hands, or arms, you know how debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome can be. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops as a result of repetitive movements, usually related to work. The condition can progress to such an extent that you may consider your options for long-term disability benefits. But can you get disability for carpal tunnel syndrome? The short answer is yes. And there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of being approved for disability benefits.
Document Your Symptoms and Provide Proof of Diagnosis
Whenever you file a disability claim, the insurance company wants to see objective proof about your diagnosis and symptoms. Objective proof is documentation from clinical exams, tests, and the details of your symptoms.
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are numbness, inability to grip or hold items, tingling, pain, and weakness. Some people experience such severe symptoms, they have difficulty sleeping. Symptoms may be irregular or intermittent, but the insurance company will want to know what work-related activities trigger your pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome may be bilateral (both hands) or unilateral (one hand). If your symptoms affect your non-dominant hand the insurance company may question your claim for long-term disability benefits.
The results of clinical tests are of the most interest to an insurance company. They are looking for abnormalities in tests such as sensory and motor exams, the carpal compression test, or Hoffmann-Tinel sign. These are just a few of the tests your physician can conduct.
This test measures electrical activity in your muscles in response to nerve stimulation. The test may indicate carpal tunnel syndrome, but it is possible to get a false negative result.
Nerve Conduction Study (NCV)
A nerve conduction study measures the speed of the transmission of the electrical impulses in a nerve. NCV results can be an accurate indicator of carpal tunnel syndrome. It is also possible that, like an EMG, results can be false negatives.
Document the Treatment You Receive
The insurance company will expect you to receive treatment for your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. The treatment must be appropriate for the condition and may include:
- Wrist splinting
- Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
- Oral corticosteroids
- Corticosteroid injections
- Physical or occupational therapy and/or home exercises
- Carpal tunnel release surgery
It's important that you comply with all treatments your doctor prescribes. If you fail to follow treatments, it may hurt your chances of receiving disability benefits.
Provide Proof You Are Unable to Work
To be eligible for long-term disability benefits, you must be able to prove your carpal tunnel condition prevents you from doing the primary activities required for your job. The insurance company will use a residual functional capacity (RFC) report to determine your abilities and disabilities.
An RFC evaluates what activities or functions you can and cannot do as a result of your disability. For example, if your position requires you to type, the insurance company will want to know how long you can type. If your job requires the use of tools, they want to know if you are able to grasp and hold the tools with enough strength to perform your job. Your doctor will need to provide his or her opinion, communicate clearly about the severity of your symptoms, and explain how they prevent you from working. If you are consulting a disability attorney, he or she may recommend additional tests. If you don't have a disability attorney, you may consider hiring one.
Your insurance company will analyze your job requirements and they may ask your employer for a job description. There are also vocational specialists who can provide additional information about what your job requires. Your attorney might recommend a vocational assessment.
The insurance company compares RFC results with your job requirements to determine whether the requirements of your job exceed what you are able to do. If you cannot perform the activities in your job, you should be considered disabled.
Continue to Document Your Symptoms
Because the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may improve over time, particularly if treatment proves to be effective or if you have surgery, the insurance company may require on-going proof of your disability. Your insurance provider may accept updated medical records or may want updated clinical tests. They will be looking for continued proof of abnormal clinical results. If you fail to provide the information they request, your benefits may be terminated.