Can I Keep Working with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a painful condition which is generally caused by repetitive bending of the wrist. It is one of the most common forms of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs). When repeated pressure on the median nerve in the wrist causes swelling, the feelings in the hand are affected. This may cause a constant or recurring tingling sensation, pain, numbness, and difficulty using the affected hand, especially for grasping or fine motor movements.

The severity and extent of the pain vary from case to case. Most people with CTS experience tingling and numbness in their thumbs and first two fingers. Many also experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the arm(s)
  • Pain in the wrist(s)
  • Pain in the hand(s)
  • Difficulty with moving fingers
  • Difficulty carrying
  • Difficulty grasping
  • Weakness in the hand(s)

While most cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are caused by repetitive work which involves bending the wrists, it can also be caused by arthritis, certain diseases (lupus being one of the most common), and wrist injuries. Treatment for CTS varies from wearing a splint while you work to surgery. Even with surgery, there is no guarantee that the symptoms will be alleviated.

Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome a Disability?

If you suffer from carpal tunnel, and you can meet the criteria of a Blue Book listing, then the Social Security Administration (SSA) will consider a disability and you will receive monthly disability benefits.

Since there is not a listing for carpal tunnel, you can qualify for disability benefits through a listing for a comparable listing. Often, someone with carpal tunnel will have an underlying medical condition and can qualify through another listing, or a listing with similar symptoms, such as lupus, arthritis, or peripheral neuropathy.

You must show that you will be unable to work for at least a year, and that your symptoms are so severe that even with treatment you cannot work enough to earn a living.

Wrist injuries can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome. To qualify per the arthritis listing, so you must show that it has caused major joint dysfunction, and that it makes it difficult to hold and lift items because of your wrists.

If you have inflammatory arthritis causes deformities that keep you from working, then you meet the criteria of a Blue Book listing.

Your treating physician should complete a residual functional capacity (RFC) form, which details what you can and cannot do, and shows that you are unable to work and earn a living.

Hard medical evidence, such as exam notes, test results, and so forth are also a necessity for a successful disability claim when you have carpal tunnel that is so severe you are unable to work and earn a living.

The other two criteria are:

  • Evidence that you cannot work for at least the next 12 months;
  • Evidence that the symptoms you experience match an SSA Blue Book listing.

The last criterion is the most challenging because generally most SSA examiners do not consider carpal tunnel syndrome as disabling.

There is no specific listing in the Blue Book, but your application may be considered if the carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are linked to other listings in the Blue Book  such as arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, anemia, diabetes, etc.

Examiners will pay careful attention to the evidence you can provide showing the onset and development of the syndrome, doctor’s diagnosis and any supporting documentation from specialists.

In many cases, your case may be enhanced by having a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment done by your doctor. The RFC will test your physical capacity to continue working with the use of a series of physical tests.

How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affects Your Physical Capacity for Work

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can have a significant impact on your physical residual functional capacity. In the first place, most people contracted CTS because of repetitive stress on the wrists in the workplace. This can make it difficult or even impossible to continue doing the work they had been performing.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects your abilities to carry and grasp anything. It can also make lifting difficult. Because of this, most types of heavy physical labor are impossible for people with severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome.

CTS can also affect your ability to perform fine motor movements with your hand, making it difficult to do any kind of detail work or anything involving fine motor skills. This makes it difficult to do most kinds of light physical work. CTS can also affect your physical ability to perform many sedentary office jobs, because it limits your ability to type and perform other common office functions.

How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affects Your Mental Capacity for Work

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome does not directly affect your mental capacity for work. However, the pain which it causes can affect your ability to concentrate on tasks. Additionally, some people who experience the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome for prolonged periods of time may suffer depression or other mental conditions which could affect their mental capacity to work.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Applying for Social Security Disability

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not list Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as a condition in its listings of impairments. In cases where there is proven nerve damage, the SSA may adjudicate the claim based on the listings for peripheral neuropathy. If the CTS is caused by another condition (i.e., an injury or disease), it may also be adjudicated based on the listing for the condition which is causing it. You will, of course, want to make sure to include all of the effects of CTS on your life and ability to work in your claim.

In most cases, however, when you apply for Social Security disability benefits based on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you will need to show evidence that your condition makes it impossible for you to continue working at any job for which you are reasonably qualified or for which you could reasonably be trained.

You must have medical documentation of your condition which shows that you have been complying with attempts to treat your CTS and that you are unable to work despite all attempts at therapy. Additionally, your documentation should be stated in such a way that it shows its effect on your ability to perform work. Specifically, your claim should make clear how CTS affects your ability to carry, grasp, and perform fine motor functions.

If you would like your claim evaluated for free by an SSD attorney or advocate in your area, please fill out the free evaluation form on this site.