Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is among the most common pain-related issues that affects American workers. While it starts out mild, over time, carpal tunnel pain can progress until you need surgery to avoid permanent damage. But does it qualify for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits? Despite there not being a specific carpal tunnel listing in the Social Security Administration’s Blue Book, we know it’s possible! If you know what the SSA looks for and how to fill out your application, that is. We’ll explain what you should know before you apply for SSD benefits below.
How Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affects Your Ability to Work
First, understand that the SSA won’t approve anyone for SSD benefits unless they meet certain basic requirements. The main issue isn’t how much pain you’re in, or what the doctor says is wrong with your health. It’s whether your health problems specifically force you to stop working for at least 12 months. Many people with mild to moderate carpal tunnel need about 28 days off to recover from outpatient surgery. That’s according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). However, if you struggled to keep working in pain until your doctor convinced you to get surgery, that’s different.
Your grip and strength should return about 2-3 months after surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). However, some people don’t get full grip and pinch strength back until 6-12 months post-surgery. Put off treatment for too long, and you may suffer permanent nerve damage. Younger people typically file workers’ compensation claims for CTS surgery, since it’s a repetitive motion injury. But for those in middle age, moderate to advanced CTS may spell the end of their working years.
According to the National Institute for Health (NIH), women are 3x more likely to develop carpal tunnel than men. Occupations that are most likely to develop carpal tunnel include:
- Administrative or clerical workers
- Clothing manufacturers, tailors, launderers and embroiderers
- Meatpacking plant workers
- Cleaners, housekeepers, maids and hotel staffers
- Food preparation workers, including cooks and cafeteria staff
- Clinical laboratory technicians
- Construction, electrical repair and maintenance workers
- Bus and long-distance truck drivers
- Mechanics (auto and service technicians)
- Metal workers and industrial machinists
- HVAC specialists
- Telecom equipment installers
Overall, BLS data shows about 1 in every 10,000 workers requests time off for CTS-related issues every year.
Related Health Issues That Often Qualify for Disability Benefits
Remember, we said there’s no specific listing just for carpal tunnel in the SSA’s Blue Book. That’s the list of guidelines they use to evaluate medical issues for disability benefits. However, several related health problems that appear in the SSA’s Blue Book may help support your disability case. Do you have any of these doctor-diagnosed health problems in addition to your carpal tunnel? If yes, it’s much easier for you to get approved for monthly disability payments:
- Diabetes. Recent studies show carpal tunnel affects as much as 1 in 5 people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. And, in fact, diabetes is a qualifying disability that can get you SSD benefits.
- Peripheral neuropathy. Much like diabetes, neuropathy-related disorders are a common risk factor for developing carpal tunnel. Neuropathy is also a qualifying disability listed in the SSA’s Blue Book.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Arthritis causes joint inflammation and swelling, which then pinch your thumb’s median nerve. Carpal tunnel is incredibly common among people with RA and arthritis-related diseases, such as gout and pseudogout. Here’s a quick guide to how the SSA evaluates disability claims for arthritis.
- Obesity. Interestingly, your risk for developing carpal tunnel goes up 7.4% for every additional body mass index (BMI) unit. So, you’re 22% more likely to develop carpal tunnel with a BMI of 30 than with a BMI of 27. About 40% of disability applicants have a BMI of 30 or higher.
- Hypothyroidism. While not a major risk factor, thyroid disease is another related condition that may help you qualify for benefits.
4 Things That May Help You Get Disability Benefits for Carpal Tunnel
Here are four important things to consider before filing your disability claim for carpal tunnel:
- Your age. CTS is most common among women aged 45-54. Since the SSA relaxes its rules for SSD claimants aged 50+, your age may help you get benefits.
- Your education. You’re more likely to get approved for SSD benefits with a high school diploma than someone with a college degree.
- List every health issue you have on your disability application. In recent years, 62% of approved disability applicants listed multiple health conditions on their claim forms. It’s very difficult to get your SSD claim approved based on one condition (unless it’s a terminal illness).
- Your work history. Generally, you need 40 Social Security work credits to qualify for SSD benefits. If you haven’t worked in the past five years, then you cannot qualify for those payments. In addition, the SSA will look at your job skills and employment history. Are there any other jobs you can do with your CTS? If not, you’re much more likely to get approved for disability benefits.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Having an experienced Social Security attorney file your claim makes you nearly 3x more likely to get disability benefits. The SSA approves about 1 in every 20 claimants without legal assistance. However, it can triple your wait time to receive your first SSD payment.
If the SSA doesn’t approve your initial claim during the 3-5 month waiting period, you have 60 days to appeal. The first step, reconsideration, adds another 100 days to your wait time. Just 2% get approved at this stage, but 9% get benefits at their ALJ appeals hearing. However, the average wait time for an ALJ hearing court date nationwide is currently 11.8 months. Apply on your own, and you’ll likely wait at least 18 months to receive benefits. File through an attorney, and you’ll likely get your first payment in six months or less.
All disability attorneys work on contingency. That means if the SSA doesn’t approve your claim, you owe your lawyer $0 for legal assistance. And if you do win, you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.