Can I Work with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and it significantly impacts your ability to perform your daily tasks as well as renders you unable to work, you may be eligible to for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA oversees the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides monthly benefits to disabled workers who meet specific requirements and prove they are unable to work.

One of the things you can do to increase your chances of receiving compensation is to consult a lawyer who specializes in Social Security Disability claims. He or she will be in the best position to help you win the benefits that you deserve.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from swelling putting severe pressure on a nerve in the wrist. Your median nerve, which supplies much of the feeling to a hand, is impacted. Repetitive hand and wrist motions are the most frequent causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, so it is most often considered a repetitive stress injury (RSI).

Medical conditions such as lupus or arthritis can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome as well. The numbness, tingling, burning, pain, and weakness in the hands can seriously impact your ability to function.

If you cannot work because of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Is Carpal Tunnel a Disability?

The short answer is yes that is, if you can prove that carpal tunnel has prevented you from working for 12 consecutive months. A statement signed by your physician confirming you have missed work for 12 consecutive months is a good way to start defining carpal tunnel as a disability.

However, you also have to meet the medical guidelines established by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA refers to the Blue Book to make decisions on Social Security disability claims.

Although the Blue Book does not list carpal tunnel as a disability, you might be able to convince the SSA that your symptoms fall under the category of symptoms listed for Peripheral Neuropathy.

As with carpal tunnel, the symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy include difficulty moving your arms, wrists, and hands, as well as your legs, feet, and ankles.

How Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affect Your Ability To Work?

Because of the nature of carpal tunnel syndrome, you may find yourself unable to grasp items, lift or carry things, and suffer such pain and limited mobility that you can’t do simple tasks you would normally take for granted, such as brushing your hair, signing your name, or opening a bottle or jar. Weakness, numbness, and tingling of the hand can keep you from doing tasks such as filing documents, or sorting records.

Because the pain involved with carpal tunnel syndrome is so severe, you may have to wear a splint on the wrist that is affected. Environmental changes, such as changes in your work duties, may be required to help you regain motion of the wrist and alleviate the pain.

If you are suffering from an extreme case of the syndrome, you may need to undergo surgery to cut the ligament and prevent it from pushing up against the nerve and causing your pain and discomfort.

How Does Carpal Tunnel Create Limitations for Specific Jobs?

The inability to lift, carry, reach, or grasp can impact your ability to perform work. If you cannot finger or grasp small things you cannot perform duties as a product inspector, bookkeeper or administrative assistant. Your inability to lift or carry things can keep from being employed in a warehouse, shipping department, as a delivery driver, or as a cashier.

You may also realize you are unable to do data entry, word processing, or IT duties.

Your wrist and arm pain can make it impossible for you to drive, so you cannot drive a tractor-trailer truck, a trolley, or a bus for public transportation. The problems with your wrist and hand motions can make repairing things impossible, so you may find yourself unable to do duties as a mechanic or in the maintenance department.

Can You Get Disability with Carpal Tunnel?

Submitting a disability claim requires you to present the most persuasive evidence. Medical evidence for carpal tunnel includes imaging tests that display bone and/or muscle deformities caused by repetitive motions.

Your physician should include the results of wrist-flexion tests, which measure your ability to move your wrists.

Here are some other diagnostic tests your doctor might put you through:

  • Thumb weakness
  • Phalen
  • Tinel’s sign
  • Pressure provocation
  • Electromyography
  • Nerve conduction

Medical evidence signed by your physician might convince the SSA to green light your claim for disability benefits.

You also have to earn enough work credits to qualify for financial assistance.

The SSA determines the number of work credits that you need by referring to your age and the number of years you have worked.

Receiving disability benefits is also dependent on you missing 12 consecutive months from work. Both your employer and your physician can verify you have missed work for a minimum of 12 consecutive months.

Getting approved for disability benefits with carpal tunnel might require you to go beyond the typical claims process. If the SSA denies your disability claim for carpal tunnel, the federal agency might request you to undergo a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment.

A doctor from the SSA puts you through several tests that measure your ability to complete daily job functions. For example, if you work on an assembly line, an RFC assessment might include at least one test that measures your ability to grip objects and place them into storage bins.

How Do I File for Benefits For Carpal Tunnel?

If you are unable to work and you are now ready to apply for SSDI benefits for your carpal tunnel, there are several options you have for starting the process.

You can go online to the SSA website to start the application process. Another option would be to call the toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 to speak with a representative and start your application. You can also go to your nearest SSA office to star the application process by meeting face-to-face with an employee of the SSA. Regardless of how you start the process, providing thorough documentation is the key to supporting and proving your claim. Yo can find more information. For more information about medically documenting your carpal tunnel, please see our page:

Tests Needed for Applying for Disability with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

You will need to provide all your medical records, physician notes, evidence of restrictions and limitations, test results, treatment that you have undergone and the results, and documentation that shows how your carpal tunnel syndrome has negatively impacted your life and affected your ability to work.

Because the process is complicated and time consuming, you may choose to have an advocate or an attorney to represent you. The average claim takes five months to gain approval, and you can be denied benefits twice, but you can appeal those decisions. An administrative law hearing is the last step.

This complex process is perhaps best dealt with by a professional Social Security Disability lawyer. Hiring one will mean you have someone knowledgeable helping you through the process and fighting on your behalf.

If you have been approved for disability benefits because of carpal tunnel syndrome, the time may come when you want to try to return to work, or when you want to supplement your disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has very strict guidelines for those who are earning disability benefits and how much they can earn from employment. There is also a trial work program, which allows a claimant to determine if he or she can return to the workforce and make a living. You should familiarize yourself with this program, so you don’t inadvertently use your trial months up.

You want to make good use of your trial months, and not use them up until you are actually ready to do so. You don’t want to use that time up before you are in good enough health to actually perform some more intense work duties and possibly return the workforce and earn a gainful income.

What Is A Trial Work Program?

The SSA has a trial work program for those who receive Social Security Disability benefits. Claimants are allowed up to 9 trial months of work – which don’t have to be consecutive – during a 60-month period. During the trial work period, the beneficiary who receives disability benefits is permitted to test his or her ability to work and still receive disability benefits. During the trial work period of 9 months, you will continue to receive disability benefits as usual while you are working.

Any month in which you work and earn more than $1,110 in 2024, it is considered a trial work month. While a trial work period consists of a total of 9 months, only those months in which you exceed that limit – currently $1,110 – counts toward the trial work period. The SSA will review the limits every year and they adjust the totals. You should check the financial limits before you start doing any kind of work if you receive disability benefits.

The months that count toward your trial work period don’t have to be consecutive. Instead, it is any month in a rolling 60-month calendar in which the SSA is calculating trail work periods, and that will potentially count toward your 9 months. After the trial work period has been used, the SSA will review your earnings to determine if you were able to maintain what is called substantial gainful activity (SGA) during that time. SGA tells them if you can earn a gainful living.

What is the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) When You Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

SGA is defined by the SSA as earnings that are at or above a specified threshold. That threshold is evaluated every year, and the figure is sometimes adjusted because of the cost of living increases and inflation. As of 2024, the SGA total is $1,550 per month for those who aren’t blind. Those who are blind have higher limits. There is an extended eligibility limit for those who are disabled and complete their trial work period.

After your trial work period, you will not receive disability benefits for any month that you earn either at or above the SGA. If you don’t attain SGA one month, you will receive your disability benefits for that month. If your condition worsens and you are no longer able to work, you can start receiving disability benefits again if you are no longer able to achieve SGA. If this occurs any time during the first five years after you return to work, you will be able to start drawing disability benefits once again right away. There will not be a waiting period while your claim is reviewed.

What is Passive Income and Self-Employment?

Not all income and earnings consist of wages and salary. Some disability claimants receive passive income and are self-employed. Those sources of income are considered differently, and how they affect your disability benefits can vary greatly. You will need to maintain thorough documentation that shows your earnings and how those funds were earned, and then you will need to be able to provide supporting documentation to the SSA should the need arise, or should they request it.

Passive income is income earned that requires little or no effort to maintain and profit from. This can be interest from a bank account or returns from an investment. Other examples include rental income from rental properties such as houses, apartments, or businesses. These earnings are reported on your taxes, so the SSA may question how you received these profits.

Self-employment income is counted differently. As an example, your business may take in $1,500, but that doesn’t mean that is all counted as your income. Any business expenses are deducted, and then any expenses associated with your ability to work are also deducted. For example, if you require special equipment or software so you can perform a job, then those are deductible. Any prescriptions and medical care can also be deducted from your totals as well.

Be sure to keep itemized records so you can show what you did earn and what expenses were necessary for you to be able to work. However, your work hours are looked at more closely than your earnings as far as self-employment goes. In general, just so long as you are not the only employee and that your business doesn’t bring in a substantial amount of money, you can work up to 10 hours per week and no more than 45 hours per month.

Should I Consult With A Disability Attorney?

If you are disabled because of carpal tunnel syndrome and you are considering returning to the workforce, you should consult with a disability attorney. A disability lawyer who handles claims in your area may be able to review the details of your situation and determine the best way to proceed. Complete the form for a Free Case Evaluation.