April 19, 2013

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Social Security Disability Benefits

In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, my clients who suffer from conditions that cause the loss or limited use of their upper extremities (i.e., their shoulders, arms, and/or hands) have great difficulty finding and maintaining employment.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) generally recognizes that a person with this type of disability finds greatly reduced numbers of jobs available to them in the national and local economy.  When I represent clients at Social Security disability hearings, Vocational Experts (VEs) often appear at the hearings to testify about the availability of jobs for people with specific limitations.  If a claimant is found to be unable to use his dominant hand to perform its full range of movements, the VE usually testifies that there are few, if any, jobs available that will accommodate such limitations.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) may cause numbness, tingling, or burning in the fingers, thumb, and hand; sometimes these sensations are also present in the wrist.  Some individuals with CTS experience pain when attempting to use their hands to perform even the simplest of tasks.  While the cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may not be known, it is believed that using or overusing one’s hands in work-related situations may be a dominant factor in causing the symptoms.  Many of my clients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have spent significant time performing occupations in which they used their hands extensively working on assembly lines, performing data entry, or using tools.

In my experience, some people get temporary relief from CTS with treatments including wearing splints and receiving injections, but they only seems to be short-term fixes.  Some people require surgery to help alleviate the pain and numbness.  This surgery, commonly known as a “carpal tunnel release,” does work for some individuals, but many others have symptoms that persist even after they have surgery.  I have found that the SSA and the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who preside at hearings want to know whether claimants with CTS have followed prescribed treatment.  They tend to give more weight to the testimony of claimants whose symptoms have persisted in spite of faithful adherence to prescribed treatment than they give to claimants who persistently fail to follow their doctor’s instructions.

I have found that the loss of fine manipulation abilities caused by CTS can leave people without the ability to write, type, work zippers on their clothes, tie their shoes, or fasten buttons.  Since many jobs involve the frequent use of the workers’ hands and fingers, these limitations decrease the work-like activities claimants can perform, and therefore erode the job base available to them.  If you suffer from these limitations you are probably familiar with how hard it can be to complete even the simplest of tasks.

It is not enough, though, to simply explain to the SSA the difficulties you face in your daily activities.  You need to be able to provide objective evidence, such as test results and doctors’ diagnoses, to show that your symptoms are caused by a severe medical impairment.  Comprehensive medical records showing that you have received long-term, consistent treatment and have followed your doctors’ instructions can be the key to a successful outcome in your Social Security disability claim.

Please note that the foregoing is for your information only, and is not intended as legal advice. 

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