There are very few jobs out there that have a zero risk for injury. Almost every professional has some sort of inherent risk to it. In fact, there probably is not any workplace that is entirely safe from accidents. Whether you are a banker who works in a nine-to-five office or a lineman who is consistently high up in the air installing electrical wiring, you face some sort of risk at work – even if it is slipping and falling because of something on the ground.
But the risk of injury that everyone faces when they get to work is exactly why there is a workers’ compensation system in Georgia. If someone is hurt on the job, workers’ compensation ensures they receive medical treatment and are not financially punished for the situation. By ensuring the worker is taken care of, it also ensures employers do not face harsh lawsuits.
One condition that has received media attention for its common relation to work is carpal tunnel syndrome. When this condition arises because of a person’s job, it can be covered by workers’ compensation.
What Is Carpal Tunnel?
Many people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome so they have a basic understanding of the issue. The condition is caused by a pinched nerve in a person’s wrist, which leads to numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in their arm, wrist, and hand.
The name for the injury comes from the narrow tunnel located on the underside of the wrist, which protects the main nerve to your hand as well as the nine tendons that allow the fingers to bend and move.
One of the most common symptoms for the condition is numbness or a tingling sensation in your hands or fingers, particularly your thumb, index, middle, and ring finger. Rarely is the same issue felt in the pinky finger. The feeling can extend back from the wrist up into a person’s arm. This numbness can be occasional at first and can arise when someone is holding or gripping something, but as the condition worsens, the feeling can be constant.
Another common symptom is weakness, which can cause people to drop items they are holding. Overtime the hand weakness can become severe, affecting a person’s ability to work or function normally.
How Carpal Tunnel Develops at Work
Carpal tunnel occurs because the median nerve leading into the wrist and hand becomes irritated or compressed. Many things can cause this particularly problem, such as a breaking your wrist or arthritis. But in many work environments it is a repetitive hand and wrist motion or vibrating tools that lead to the condition.
For example, people who consistently type during the day may develop carpal tunnel because of the position of their wrists for hours at a time. People who work in manufacturing facilities may have to install or remove the same parts dozens or hundreds of times every day. Seamstresses or tailors who sew hours a day put a lot of stress on their wrists. Additionally, people working in construction often work with power tools or machines that vibrate.
Diagnosing Carpal Tunnel
If an employee believes they may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome, they should be examined by a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment. A doctor will review the patient’s symptoms, perform a physical examination, and possibly take X-rays or conduct a nerve study.
Your physician will be interested in seeing how your fingers feel and the amount of strength you have in your hand. An X-ray will rule out whether the issue is caused by a previously unknown fracture or arthritis. A nerve study determines in the signals passed through the median nerve slow down in the carpal tunnel because of the condition.
Notifying Your Employer
The timing of notification in regard to carpal tunnel is often where issue arises in workers’ compensation claims. Carpal tunnel can be a gradual injury, which means an employee can realize that they are developing the illness over time. It is not like a slip and fall where there is a definite time and place the injury happened. In a slip and fall case, it is clear when the clock starts running for how long an employee has to notify the employer – 30 days from the time of the accident.
But there is a lot of debate as to when the clock starts running for carpal tunnel under Georgia’s workers’ compensation system. Even if an employee is told by their primary physician that they are developing the injury that is not necessarily the moment in which the injury manifests itself.
An employee can risk going a significant period of time knowing that they have carpal tunnel and not telling their employer. The problem with this situation is that the employer has no way to mitigate the damage caused by the injury, which is one of the main reasons behind notification. The employee also risks having their workers’ compensation claim denied.
It is better to speak with an employer early on regarding the development of carpal tunnel. Once you have been properly diagnosed by a doctor, you should tell your employer right away. This way your workers’ compensation benefits can begin to pay for your treatment and the time you need away from work.
If you developed carpal tunnel because of your job, you are entitled to workers’ compensation under Georgia law. You are entitled to medical treatment, including physical rehabilitation, replacement income, and possibly more.
The treatment for carpal tunnel depends greatly on the extent of the injury. If someone is beginning to develop the condition, a doctor can help you stabilize the wrist and reduce irritation or pressure on the nerve. Employees may be required to wear a wrist brace while they work or a splint while they sleep to reduce nighttime symptoms. Corticosteroids may be used to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling in the wrist.
People who are further along may require surgery to correct the problem, which generally leads to many days off work. The surgeon cuts the ligament that is putting pressure on the median nerve. This ligament grows back over time but leaves more room for the nerve. Patients who undergo surgery need to slowly increase the use of their hand and have to avoid awkward wrist positions and forceful motions. It can take weeks or months for the soreness and hand weakness to improve.
Contact an Augusta, Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you are having trouble receiving your workers’ compensation benefits for your carpal tunnel syndrome, contact the skilled Augusta workers’ compensation lawyers at Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. They understand the nuances of Georgia’s workers’ compensation law and will fight to protect your rights.