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Can I win SSA disability for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome generally is caused by the thickening of the tendons from the forearm to the palm of the hand when they become irritated or swollen, compressing the median nerve. Carpal tunnel symptoms generally start with a gradual burning, numbness or tingling in the palm of the claimant’s hands and fingers. Although there may be no apparent swelling, some claimants complain that they have difficulty using their fingers.

Other common symptoms of carpal tunnel can include weakness, numbness or radiating pain up the arm. Claimants frequently may have difficulty gripping objects or performing other tasks with their hands such as typing. Other symptoms can include loss of manual dexterity, pain and the periodic locking of a person’s hand in a set position.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are a variety of factors which can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome including trauma to the wrist from an injury such as a fracture, overactive glands, arthritis, fluid retention, menopause, thyroid disease or diabetes. Workers who perform repetitive tasks such as typing, sorting or using vibrating hand tools also have a high incidence of this condition.

Winning Social Security Disability Benefits for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two methods it uses to determine if a claimant is disabled and qualifies for either Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Claimants may either have a disabling mental or physical health conditions which “meets or exceeds” a condition on the SSA Listing of Impairments (also known informally as the Blue Book) or they can prove they do not have the residual capacity to work through a medical vocational allowance.

Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration does not have a specific listing for carpal tunnel syndrome. Does this mean that you absolutely cannot win benefits for this condition? No, but it will be more difficult.

Winning Social Security Disability Benefits for Carpal Tunnel through a Medical Vocational Allowance

Most claimants who do not have a condition which meets or exceeds a listing in the SSA Listing of Impairments will benefit from the expertise of a disability lawyer.

To determine if you can receive SSD benefits through a medical vocational allowance the Social Security Administration will review your residual functional capacity (RFC) to work.

The Social Security Administration will first determine if you have the residual functional capacity to perform heavy, medium, light or sedentary work. Proving that you cannot work will entail providing medical evidence that your condition causes severe limitations to perform work.

Whether or not you can perform your current job or retrain for new work will depend on the severity of your condition. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome and your hands frequently lock or you cannot grip objects, you may be able to prove that you cannot perform physical labor.

Medical evidence from your doctor is needed to identify all of the restrictions you have to use your hands. What types of limitations should be documented?

• Schedule of medical treatments
• Limitations to reach, lift, or pull
• Limitations to grip objects
• Limitations using your hands or arms

Many claimants with other conditions may have difficulty proving that they cannot perform sedentary work, but carpal tunnel claimants will have less difficulty proving this because most sedentary, unskilled jobs require that the worker has manual dexterity.

What about skilled sedentary work? Most workers will need either specialized education or training or at the very least will need to be able to type and depending on your age, education, work history or symptoms you may be able to prove you cannot retrain for skilled sedentary work.

If the Social Security Administration determines that you do not have the residual functional capacity to work (given your age, medical condition, work history, or education level) they will award you either SSDI or SSI benefits, assuming you meet the nonmedical criteria of the corresponding program.