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Beware of holiday repetitive stress injuries

A recent article in a New Jersey publication humorously cautioned against the dangers of fanciful repetitive stress injuries unique to the holiday season. For example, New Jersey gift givers trying to wrap too many oddly shaped toys may be at risk for the imaginary ailment of Wrapping Paper Elbow. Those who frequent restaurants and other service industries more often during the holidays may be at risk for Carpal Tunnel Tip Syndrome.

All joking aside, however, repetitive use injuries remain a concern for many New Jersey workers who need computers to perform their work duties. Computers play an important role in the modern workplace: According to a recent poll, more than two-thirds of working Americans use a computer at work. Of that portion, 84% characterize computers as essential for their jobs.

Although workers may be aware of suggested ergonomic practices when typing on a keyboard, reading a monitor or using a mouse, the conditions for using a computer in the workplace may not always be ideal. Workplace pressures such as stress, deadlines or even personality conflicts may result in compromised ergonomic practices -- even in workers who know better. With repeated movement strains to the hand or wrist, the risk of injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, may increase.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful nerve condition caused by a narrowing of the carpal tunnel, the small passageway on the palm side of the wrist. The constriction places pressure on the median nerve which passes through the carpal tunnel, resulting in symptoms that may include intermittent tingling, aching in the palm, and/or numbness in the thumb or index, middle or ring fingers. If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to pain, weakness and lack of coordinated movement in the fingers and thumb.

CTS is typically diagnosed based on an evaluation of symptoms, a physical exam, and an electrophysiological test which measures the electrical signals passing through the median nerve. Treatment options may include wearing a wrist splint, corticosteroid injections into the carpal tunnel, or carpal tunnel surgery. The surgery relieves pressure on the median nerve by cutting the transverse carpal ligament which is pressing on the nerve.

New Jersey readers may be surprised to learn that the Social Security Administration generally does not consider CTS to be a disabling condition on its own. That may seem unjust, considering that most types of work require the reliable use of both hands. Few, if any, jobs may be available for workers who can't use their hands because of CTS.

Yet even though CTS is not specifically included on the SSA's Listing of Impairments, a worker may still qualify for Social Security disability benefits if he or she cannot work because of CTS. To be eligible for SSDI payments, a worker must provide the SSA with qualifying evidence of the functional limitations caused by the impairment, as well as medical records such as a nerve conduction study. Although the application process may not be easy, an attorney can help you prove your claim.

Source: nj.com, "Lost in Suburbia: Ho-ho-hoping you have a healthy holiday," Tracy Beckerman, Dec. 11, 2012

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