What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition that affects the hands and fingers causing pain, numbness, parathesia (pins and needles) and a burning or tingling sensation. Ranging from mild to severe, symptoms are caused when the median nerve becomes compressed by the carpal tunnel, a nervous passageway in the wrist which runs from there to the lower palm. Tendons which enable finger movement are also present in the carpal tunnel, meaning that the initial compression of the carpal tunnel – caused by a build up of fluid in the tissue (oedema) and increased tissue pressure – is exacerbated by the flexing of the wrist and fingers.
CTS is more prevalent in women than men. In the UK roughly 60 to 120 women out of every 100,000 are affected by the condition annually, compared to just 35 to 60 men out of every 100,000. CTS is particularly common during pregnancy, affecting up to 50% of pregnant women. This is thought to be caused by fluid retention which often occurs during pregnancy, placing increased pressure on the carpal tunnel and causing symptoms.
The two most common age-ranges for developing CTS are between 50 to 54 and 75 to 84.
What Causes CTS?
According to research conducted by The National Centre for Biotechnology Information, typing is the most common cause of CTS. Further research has cited genetics as a possible factor, encouraging caution when citing the cause.
Unfortunately, the cause of most cases is idiopathic (where the condition arises spontaneously) or unknown. Any pre-existing medical condition which places added pressure on the median nerve at the wrist could cause CTS including obesity, oral contraceptives, hypothyroidism, arthritis, diabetes, and trauma.
As typing is commonly an occupational task, there is call for work induced CTS to be officially recognised as an occupational illness. This however, is an ongoing international point of debate. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted rules and regulations regarding cumulative trauma disorders in order to deal with CTS queries and cases.
In some studies, the occupational risk factors of repetitive tasks, force, posture, and vibration all have been cited as potential causes. Others find that carpal tunnel is aggravated by repetitive movement and manipulating activities. This exposure can be cumulative; so repetitive, forceful use of the hands in industrial occupations is considered to be a cause by many. In many places, employees who are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome are entitled to time off and compensation.
What Are The Symptoms?
The main symptoms of CTS are intermittent numbness of the thumb, index, long and radial half of the ring finger; often accompanied by pain, parathesia (pins and needles) and a burning or tingling sensation. The numbness usually occurs during the night, although recent research suggests that sleeping posture may be an associated factor. Long-term, untreated carpal tunnel syndrome leads to permanent nerve damage which can be associated with continual numbness and atrophy of some muscles in the palm.
How Should Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Be Diagnosed?
Diagnosing CTS should be relatively straightforward. The majority of hand surgeons will make their diagnosis based upon a combination of symptoms, clinical findings and the results of electrophysiological testing. In coming to this conclusion a hand surgeon will examine a number of areas.
These can include:
- Discussing medical and work history, exploring repetitive activities
- Numbness in the hand and nocturnal symptoms
- Thenar muscular weakness/atrophy
- Positive Tinel’s sign
- Abnormal sensory testing
- If however, pain is more predominant compared to numbness, the condition is unlikely to be CTS, even if the other symptoms would make it likely.
Tinel’s sign, is a classic diagnostic test which is used to detect irritated nerves. This is performed by lightly tapping the skin over the flexor retinaculum (carpal tunnel); to elicit a feeling of tingling or “pins and needles”.
There are other conditions that can be misdiagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome. So if the patient history and physical exam suspects CTS, it may need to be confirmed electrodiagnostically. This diagnostic test examines the speed at which signals are conducted down the median nerve; the source of the problem. Where the median nerve is compressed in CTS, it will conduct signals more slowly than other healthy nerves supplying the hand.
How Should CTS Be Treated?
Palliative treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include the use of night splints to prevent flexion and corticosteroid injections. Where wearing the splint at night does not help, you may need to wear it during the day. Hot and cold compresses may be recommended, but the only scientifically proven disease modifying treatment, is surgery to cut the transverse carpal ligament.
Symptoms often improve with treatment, but 50% of all CTS cases eventually require surgery. This is often successful but it can take months to heal completely.
How Do I Know If I Can Make A Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Claim?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a frustrating, painful and debilitating condition to live with. To date CTS has been associated with occupations that require repetitive hand movements, such as typing. As a result, employers have a duty of care to their employees to protect them from harmful effects of their work. Where employee health and safety is neglected, whether in a current or previous occupational role, CTS sufferers may be entitled to claim compensation.
At Asons Solicitors we work hard to achieve the best outcome for your claim. Our expert occupational injury solicitors understand the effects that CTS can have on an individual’s day to day life, and so they know which actions can be taken to help achieve the greatest possible benefit for the sufferer.
Am I Likely to be Affected by Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
As CTS can be caused by continued, repetitive hand and wrist motions, it affects a wide variety of occupations. If you experience any of the symptoms, you should contact us to make a compensation claim today. If you are still unsure however, below is a sample of typical tasks that can cause it.
Some of the worst affected professions include:
- Assembly line work
- Engineering/ Machine Operator
- Playing some musical instruments
- Sports such as racquetball or handball
- Use of tools (especially hand tools or tools that vibrate)
If any of the above applies to you, or if you feel that you may be suffering with carpal tunnel syndrome, you should contact Asons Solicitors today and consult with your GP. If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms such as numbness, tingling or reduced grip strength you should speak to your GP immediately, ensuring that you detail the following:
- Any past or present jobs with a CTS risk
- Any nocturnal symptoms
- Your symptoms and treatment
- Tests you may need
- Whether you should see a hand surgeon
- How to protect yourself and others
Where your occupation involves the completion of continual repetitive tasks, your employer should implement safeguards to prevent further injury. A review of your workspace should be completed to identify problem areas with posture, as well as allowing for the recommendation of ergonomic keyboards, computer mice, lumbar and foot support. Any equipment required to alleviate stress to the wrist and hands should be provided.
Where else can I find help and advice?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provides plenty of helpful information for both employers and CTS sufferers. It includes brochures and printed material for use in the work place as well as assessment guides and checklists for ensuring employee safety. The British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH) is also a useful resource for the latest developments and news on research taking place in the field.
What Should I do Now?
If you believe you may be affected you will need help to file a Carpal Tunnel Claim. You should also consult with a GP to gain access to treatment to soothe your symptoms.
How can Asons Solicitors help?
We can provide assistance for any occupational injury claim. In talking to us you will receive the utmost care and attention whilst we deal with your CTS claim and we’ll keep you updated along every step of the way.
If you would like to make a claim you can fill out our claim form to your right. Alternatively, please use our contact details below.