The Economic Burden of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Long-Term Earnings of CTS Claimants in Washington State

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Abstract

Background

The long-term earnings losses borne by injured workers, beyond those covered by workers' compensation insurance, are rarely estimated. The post-claim earnings of a cohort of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) claimants are tracked over a period of 6 years and compared to the earnings of claimants with either upper extremity fractures or dermatitis.

Methods

Quarterly earnings records of 4,443 workers in Washington State who filed claims with the State Fund in 1993 or 1994 for CTS are compared to those of 2,544 with upper-extremity fracture claims and 1,773 with medical-only dermatitis claims. Multivariate regression was used to identify the effect of injury type on earnings from that of other potential predictors.

Results

CTS claimants recover to about half of their pre-injury earnings level relative to that of comparison groups after 6 years; they also endured periods on time-loss three times longer than claimants with upper extremity fractures. CTS surgery claimants had better outcomes than those who did not have surgery. Earnings recovery fractions among CTS claimants were better for workers who: (1) were younger; (2) had stable pre-claim employment; (3) lived in the Puget sound area; (4) worked for large businesses; (5) worked in non-construction/transportation industries; or (6) were in the higher pre-injury earnings categories. Cumulative excess loss of earnings of the 4,443 CTS claimants was $197 million to $382 million over 6 years, a loss of $45,000-$89,000 per claimant. This underscores the importance of prevention, early diagnosis, and accommodation for return to work.

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