South Carolina Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Understand your right to compensation after a carpal tunnel injury at work
Many South Carolina workers don’t think of their jobs as being particularly high risk for injuries. But while you might not swing an ax at work all day, you might be doing repetitive tasks that could contribute to pain and a loss of your abilities over time.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is one type of work injury that often occurs in an office, on an assembly line or in other environments where you engage in repetitive tasks. Understanding ways to reduce your risk of developing this condition and knowing what to do if symptoms appear preserves your ability to earn an income and enjoy the best quality of life possible.
This article will discuss carpal tunnel risks, signs and treatment options, as well as the steps required to file a workers’ compensation claim in South Carolina if you’ve been affected.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury that impacts your hands and arms. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passage in your wrists, and the condition develops when the nerve that passes through this part of your body gets compressed.
Once this happens, you might experience symptoms that include the following:
- Weakness in the affected hand/wrist
If you develop these symptoms, you aren’t alone. One study found that the rate of carpal tunnel was 6.3 per 10,000 employees, and women were about 3 times more likely to have the condition than men.
Additionally, it was found that delayed diagnoses and reporting were common. This is perhaps related to the gradual onset of symptoms that occurs with CTS.
Can carpal tunnel syndrome affect your whole arm?
The carpal tunnel and median nerve are located on the palm side of the wrist, but problems with this part of your body can extend throughout your whole arm and shoulder.
The median nerve provides communication between your hand and your brain, so people with CTS sometimes develop symptoms that include pain or tingling that extends from the forearm all the way up to their shoulders.
Once the symptoms get severe, you might also develop a loss of coordination that includes dropping things or being unable to fasten a button.
What are the common causes of carpal tunnel syndrome?
CTS develops when people engage in repetitive tasks that irritate the median nerve. Having poor posture or using the wrong wrist positions while performing repetitive tasks can also increase your risk of developing CTS by straining the tendons that exist within and around the carpal tunnel.
Does carpal tunnel syndrome worsen over time?
The gradual onset of CTS is one of the reasons why people don’t seek help until the condition interferes with their daily activities. Essentially, you can expect your symptoms to progress if you continue to do the repetitive motions that are irritating the carpal tunnel. If you notice that pain, tingling or other symptoms continue or get worse, then you’ll want to see your doctor.
What jobs are at higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome?
Many occupations involve repetitive hand and wrist movements, which put workers at a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome, including:
- Assembly line workers. Jobs that require repetitive hand and wrist movements, such as assembly line work in factories, can put individuals at increased risk.
- Cashiers. Constantly scanning and handling items at the cash register may put cashiers at a higher risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Construction workers. Job tasks that involve vibrating tools or repetitive gripping and twisting motions, such as hammering, drilling or using power tools, can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Healthcare workers. Healthcare workers frequently engage in activities such as administering injections, conducting physical examinations, typing medical records, and other procedures that require repetitive hand motions. The combination of these tasks, along with the necessity of maintaining proper hand hygiene and using protective gloves, can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Mechanics. Automotive technicians and mechanics who frequently use power tools and perform repetitive motions while repairing vehicles may be at an increased risk.
- Restaurant and food prep workers. Working in the culinary industry involves repetitive chopping, slicing and stirring, which can strain the wrist and contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Warehouse workers. Jobs that involve frequent lifting, carrying and repetitive movements while handling inventory or operating heavy machinery can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Painters. Professionals who perform repetitive motions while using brushes, rollers and other painting tools may be at an increased risk.
- Landscapers and gardeners. Workers in the landscaping industry often engage in repetitive hand and wrist motions while using tools such as trimmers, shears and shovels, which can contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Office workers. Individuals who spend long hours typing on keyboards or using computer mice may be at higher risk due to the repetitive motions involved in these tasks.
- Teachers and daycare workers. Professionals in the education and childcare sectors may be at an increased risk due to activities such as grading papers, changing diapers, buttoning and zipping clothing, and other fine motor activities involved in assisting young children.
- Musicians. Musicians who play instruments that require repetitive finger movements, such as pianists, guitarists or violinists, may be susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Is carpal tunnel covered under South Carolina workers’ comp?
South Carolina law requires most employers with 4 or more employees to purchase workers’ comp insurance. This no-fault insurance covers one-time injuries as well as occupational illnesses and diseases caused by an employee’s work environment or job duties.
Since CTS is an overuse injury, it falls under the definition of occupational diseases that is outlined under South Carolina law. However, keep in mind that to qualify for benefits, you must be classified as an employee, so independent contractors generally don’t qualify for benefits.
Other workers who may be excluded include:
- Agricultural workers
- Real estate agents working for a broker
- Railroad workers
- Federal workers
- Casual employees who don’t work regular hours
Explore the key factors affecting workers’ comp eligibility, including employee status, the nature of the injury or illness, and reporting and filing deadlines.
How do you prove carpal tunnel is work-related?
Even though the law allows for CTS to be covered under workers’ comp, you’ll still bear the burden of proving that your CTS is work-related.
Typically, this involves demonstrating that:
- You work in a high-risk environment where you perform tasks that are likely to lead to CTS symptoms; and
- Your symptoms wouldn’t have developed on their own based on your lifestyle outside of work without the risks posed by your job.
Types of workers’ comp benefits
The benefits that you can receive for work-related carpal tunnel syndrome include the following:
- Medical benefits. These include coverage for all necessary and reasonable medical expenses, such as doctor’s appointments, surgeries, pain medication, medical equipment like wrist splints, and physical therapy.
- Lost wage benefits. These include payments for two-thirds of your lost wages if you are unable to work or can only work part time during your recovery.
Additionally, death benefits are also available for family members whose loved one dies from a work-related injury or illness.
How do you file a claim for workers’ comp in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, you need to take the following steps to secure workers’ comp benefits after a carpal tunnel injury:
- Get medical help. First, seek medical care so you can receive treatment and a diagnosis. This is essential for a workers’ comp claim. You will be required to see an employer-approved physician, so check with your employer before you make an appointment.
- Report your injury. You’ll need to file a written report of your injury with your employer within 90 days of discovering you have carpal tunnel syndrome. With CTS, this typically occurs once you’re able to receive a diagnosis for your symptoms. Since CTS isn’t a visible injury, you want to avoid thinking that your employer knows about it. A written report provides documentation that you notified your employer.
- Wait to hear if your claim is approved. After receiving notification of your injury, it’s your employer’s job to file a workers’ comp claim on your behalf with their insurer and notify the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission. Your employer’s workers’ comp insurer will decide whether to approve or deny your claim and will award benefits based on the extent of your injury.
- Contact an attorney. If your claim is denied, you have the right to file an appeal, but it’s highly recommended that you contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to help you with the process.
Can carpal tunnel be prevented?
If you work in a high-risk job, then there are ways to prevent CTS:
- Ergonomic workstations help people maintain good postures, whether they’re sewing textiles, using an air gun or typing on their computer.
- Employees should also be encouraged to take regular breaks that give their wrists a rest.
- Stretching the hands, wrists and arms periodically throughout the day can also help prevent CTS.
- Wrist splints are beneficial for both preventing the symptoms and helping those with CTS avoid having it get worse.
Why do you need a lawyer to help with workers’ comp for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Challenges often occur with CTS workers’ compensation claims due to the progressive nature of the injury. At times, an employer could claim that the injury arose from your hobbies or a pre-existing condition, so you may need a lawyer to combat these issues.
An experienced work injury lawyer can also advocate on your behalf and negotiate with your employer and their insurance company to ensure you get the maximum compensation for your injuries.
At Smith, Born, Leventis, Taylor & Vega, we believe that every employee is entitled to a safe work environment. When injuries do occur, you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’re going to afford your medical care or pay your bills. That’s why our Columbia workers’ compensation attorneys offer free, no-obligation consultations to give you the help and information you need to get back on the road to recovery.
Contact us today to see how we can help you get maximum compensation for your claim.