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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Workers’ Comp Minefield for Technology Businesses

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Workers’ Comp Minefield for Technology Businesses

Wednesday, March 16, 2016/Categories: workers-compensation-insurance

Although it’s sometimes thrown about like a boogeyman in office culture (as the terrible fate for having a bad workstation and poor posture), carpal tunnel syndrome, or CTS, is a very real concern.

According to a study published in American Family Physicians, around three to six percent of adults in the general population are affected by CTS, and that percentage could be higher among office employees. Furthermore, the costs associated with treating it aren’t trivial.

For a technology business, carpal tunnel syndrome presents a threat to both productivity and budget, and as an injury most commonly associated with work, it could result in Workers’ Compensation claims.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed, according to the National Institutes of Health. This nerve is housed in the passageway of the wrist called the carpal tunnel.

The symptoms can vary based on the individual, but sufferers commonly report that…

  • Their fingers feel numb, itchy, or swollen.
  • They have decreased grip strength.
  • They frequently feel pain in the arm, wrist, or hand.

The affliction is more common among those whose work-related tasks involve repetitive wrist movements. Although this includes many jobs outside the office environment, tech professions are a prime area of vulnerability. In fact, CTS is one of the main sources of injury in otherwise “safe” fields like office work.

Programmers, designers, data-entry specialists – all spend most, if not all, of their day using a keyboard and mouse. Over time, this constant repetitive motion can evolve into CTS – and a Workers’ Compensation claim to their employer.

The Cost of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Dr. Jason Davis, an orthopedic surgeon at , says the cost of treating carpal tunnel syndrome can be tricky to estimate. He explains why:

  • There are the costs of the initial and follow-up office visits with a specialist.
  • There are the additional costs of non-operative treatment such as bracing, injections, and therapy.
  • It depends on whether or not the condition resolves or persists, in which case surgery is required.

According to Davis, the cost of surgery ranges from around $2,500 to as high as $7,000 in some cases. The good news is it it’s usually a quick process, “with less than 45 minutes of operating room utilization time” and performed on an outpatient basis.

Around six weeks after surgery, Davis says, CTS symptoms are typically absent and discomfort from the surgery resolved. However, it can take three to six months to regain normal hand function.

That’s a lot of time for someone who relies on his or her hands to work.

The Personal Side of CTS

Michelle Tackabery (@MKTackabery), director of marketing at , offers her own experience for those wanting to learn more about CTS and its effects:

“I underwent carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist in the summer of 2007 after two years of increasing tingling, numbness, and pain in my hands that eventually grew so debilitating that I could not type after three or so hours,” Tackabery says.

As a marketing writer, Tackabery’s ability to type was crucial. “I was deathly afraid of losing my job to this disorder,” she says. After leaving a supportive law firm, she found that software companies she worked for weren’t quite so receptive to her experience. “My first software workplace was about as un-ergonomic as it gets.”

As a result, she ended up paying for a lot of ergonomic equipment out of pocket. “As I have not had corresponding problems in my left wrist, as two other friends of mine have suffered, I think those were good investments,” Tackabery says.

Her surgery was covered by health insurance and overall, she says, it was a simple experience. However, Tackabery warns that it shouldn’t be taken lightly for its simplicity.

“About three months after I recovered, a coworker went in for the same surgery. But her insurance would not pay for the laparoscopy,” she explains. After being forced to return to work before being fully healed, her coworker “suffered incredible pain, and has had to cut back on the amount of time she spends at the keyboard doing graphic design as a result.”

Workers’ Compensation Claims Involving CTS

If you run a technology business, you may not understand why you need Workers’ Compensation Insurance. How could an employee get hurt while programming?

For those who use a computer all day, CTS is a danger that lurks in the back of the mind: “When will it pop up?” “Will it ever affect me?” “Will my ergonomic keyboard prevent it?”

If an employee makes a claim because of CTS, your Workers’ Compensation Insurance can cover the associated expenses. However, don’t rely on your policy alone to address this risk. Take the time to invest in equipment and polices that will help your employees avoid carpal tunnel syndrome – and avoid claims altogether.

For more information, see “How the Top 5 Workers’ Compensation Claims Affect Small Tech Firms.”

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