Carpal Tunnel Surgery – What if it Doesn’t Work?

For some, surgery is an effective treatment option for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) after conservative treatment fails to deliver any lasting results. However, for others, carpal tunnel surgery also fails to provide relief. This can be especially disappointing for physicians and dentists who had hoped that surgery would allow them to return to practicing.

Over the years, we’ve represented several clients who did not experience relief from their symptoms following carpal tunnel surgery. In some instances, the surgery was simply not performed correctly or soon enough to prevent permanent nerve damage, but in many instances the symptoms did not resolve because the hand pain, numbness and weakness were being caused or contributed to by other co-morbid conditions (particularly with dentists, due to the demands of the dental profession).

Since we know from experience how frustrating it can be for a professional searching for answers, we’ve attempted to put together a list of some of the conditions our clients have had that manifest similar symptoms to carpal tunnel syndrome below (in no particular order):

    • Cervical Radiculopathy: Occurs when there is damage or disturbance of the nerve function if one or more of the nerve roots near the cervical vertebrae is compressed. Based on location of the damaged root(s), symptoms include pain, loss of sensation to the arm and hand, pain that spreads to the neck, arm, chest, upper back and/or shoulders, muscles weakness and/or numbness, or tingling in the fingers and hand. In some cases, lack of coordination is experienced.
    • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/Ulnar Entrapment: A condition where the ulnar nerve becomes injured, inflamed, and swollen where it passes through the cubital tunnel on the inside of the elbow. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hand and/or ring and little finger, hand pain, weak grip, loss of dexterity, and aching pain on the inside of the elbow.
    • Arthritis of the Metacarpophalangeal Joint of the Thumb: The metacarpophalangeal joint is where the finger bones meet the hand bones (knuckle). This type of arthritis most commonly develops in the thumb and index finger and over time the fingers can shift towards the little finger, called ulnar drift.  Symptoms include pain, loss of motion, swelling, and weakness, which may be made worse when gripping or grasping objects.  Patients may also develop a tendency to drop objects due to severe pain.
    • Multiple Points of Impingement (“Double Crush” Syndrome): Multiple sites of asymptomatic nerve compression along a nerve, that then create a symptomatic compressive neuropathy because of the cumulative compression.
    • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS): A group of disorders where blood vessels or nerves in the area between the collarbone and first rib are compressed. Symptoms include shoulder and neck pain, along with numbness in the fingers.
    • Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome: Pain that usually affects one limb/extremity, typically after an injury. Symptoms include prolonged pain that is felt as burning and/or a “pins and needles” sensation, as well as increased sensitivity, swelling or stiffness in joints, and/or problems coordinating muscle movements.

While most insurers will pay benefits immediately following CTS surgery, insurers also rely upon durational guidelines to determine how long it will take you to recover. Many insurers also have their in-house doctors contact your surgeon following the surgery and push for a return-to-work date. Consequently, in claims involving CTS surgery, the real fight to maintain benefits most often comes several months after the surgery.

If the dentist or physician has not thought ahead, this can be a particularly stressful time, because the persistent symptoms may necessitate the sale of a practice that is only being kept afloat by temporary associates filling in during the recovery period. Similarly, if you are not prepared with documentation and medical records to demonstrate that the carpal tunnel surgery failed or that you have other co-morbid conditions that continue to prevent you from being able to practice, your benefits may be denied or terminated. Because of this, it is important to have a plan in place for this contingency before having the surgery.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose. Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.

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References:

Webmd.com
Mayo.com
Healthline.com
Carpal-Tunnel.net
AAOS.org
Robert Tiel, MD, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at LSU, Department of Neurosurgery, LSU Medical Center, http://www.medschool.lsuhsc.edu/neurosurgery/nervecenter/carpal.html.
Michael J. Lee, DPT and Paul C. LaStayo, PT, PhD, CHT, Pronator Syndrome and Other Nerve Compressions That Mimic Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, 34, J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 601, Oct. 2004