December 13, 2019

Case Study: Bilateral CTS and Workers’ Compensation

Repetitive motion injuries

Repetitive motion injuries result from the repeating tasks required by certain jobs. It is also referred to as RSI or Repetitive Strain Injuries or Repetitive Stress Injuries and involves the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. These injuries can result from a number of factors such as:

  • awkward and sustained positions
  • forceful exertions
  • pressing against a hard surface (or mechanical compression)
  • repetitive tasks
  • vibrations

Non-specific arm pain and upper limb work-related disorders are also included where RSI’s are concerned. In many cases of this nature, it is apparent that psychosocial and physical stressors play a significant role in these types of injuries.

RSI Symptoms

Patients who have been diagnosed with RSI typically experience the following symptoms:

  • lack of endurance and weakness
  • pain experienced in the arm, back, hands, shoulders, and/or wrists
  • pain that worsens with activity

When you contrast RSI injuries with CTS injuries, the symptoms of the latter tend to be both diffuse and non-anatomical in nature. It crosses the proper distribution of nerves and tendons as well as not being characteristic of specific discrete pathological conditions.

Ms. A and her bilateral CTS case

Ms. A is a candidate for bilateral CTS surgery due to injuries incurred from a bilateral injury to her upper extremities while performing her job. Her job required a great deal of repetitive arm and hand work as she cut and made fiber optics. Despite experiencing pain in her upper extremities, she continued to work until she was no longer able to. Her employer referred her to Dr. S who began treating her with physical therapy. When her conservative care and PT didn’t relieve her pain, she was referred to Dr. B.

Dr. S splinted her arms and put her on “light duty” status. Unfortunately, there was no light duty work for her on the job and she could no longer perform regular work, so she was sent home and remains on full disability (temporary total disability) to this day.  Dr. S ordered an MRI for Ms. A and it revealed that she had lateral epicondylitis partial thickness tearing in the proximal common extensor tendon. The proposed treatment is an initial surgery on Ms. A’s right elbow. Once the right elbow heals, she will have surgery on her left elbow.

Ms. A is now considering whether or not to settle.   On one hand, there is a high degree of  uncertainty with regard to the nature, extent and future cost of future medical care.   Often settlement values are higher when the insurance company is facing open ended medical costs.  On the other hand, if my client settles and her future medical needs involve multiple surgeries and physical therapies, even a settlement of $100,000 or more will not adequately compensate her.  This dilemma of whether and when to settle is one of the more difficult decisions for a significantly injured workers’ compensation claimant.

Case Study: Workers Compensation and Repetitive Motion Injuries

Welcome to the 3rd installment of my summer long series on Georgia Workers’ comp case studies. In the following case study, I discuss workers’ compensation and repetitive motion injuries.

An overview of DeQuervain’s Syndrome and Lateral CTS

DeQuervain Syndrome is also nicknamed Mother’s Wrist or Washerwoman’s Sprain. In more medical, technical terms it is known as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, de Quervain’s stenosing tenosynovitis, or Radial styloid tenosynovitis. DeQuervain’s syndrome is an inflammation (or tendinosis) that occurs in the sheath or the tunnel which surround the two tendons which are responsible for the thumb’s movement.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or CTS is also referred to as median neuropathy at the wrist and is a condition that results from a compressing or pinching of median nerve in the wrist area. It typically leads to extreme pain, muscle weakness, and numbness of the hand. Night symptoms and waking up off and on are characteristics of CTS as well. The definitive or standard treatment of the condition is a surgical procedure known as carpal tunnel release.

It should be noted that although this surgical procedure effectively relieves the symptoms of CTS, established nerve dysfunction in the form of atrophy, constant or “static” numbness, and weakness are all permanent. Ironically, most CTS cases do not have a specific cause, and some individuals are predisposed at developing the condition based on genetics.

Workers’ Compensation case involving repetitive motion injury: The case of “Ms. C”

Our client, Ms. C, was diagnosed with bilateral CTS as a result of her repetitious work in cake decorating. According to Dr. D, she was diagnosed with “bilateral DeQuervains tenosynovitis and ulnar nerve injury.” As a result of Ms. C’s injuries, she underwent surgeries on both wrists. About 6 weeks later, she went through surgical procedures on the left wrist – carpal tunnel and DeQuervains release surgery.

Ms. C continues living in pain today, even after the different surgeries were performed. Pain is prevalent especially in the hand, at the incision, and in the wrist area. She is currently undergoing physical therapy and has limited range of movement (ROM) as well as the pain mentioned in the above areas. It is evident that she will continue to remain under medical care as well as receiving TTD for quite some time.

Given the residual problems that exist and her surgeries, the PPD (Permanent Partial Disability) rating of each wrist is 10%. Additionally, due to the repetitive nature of Ms. C’s work, it is very obvious that her capacity to perform her job has been severely limited and she will experience continued levels of pain. As a result of her case, we have demanded “X” amount in her Workers’ Compensation case and are awaiting settlement