Picture the horrific aftermath of a car accident. Which injuries would you expect victims to endure? If you're like most people, you imagine whiplash, skull fractures, or herniated discs. To an extent, those expectations are justified; a report from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia indicates that car crashes are the leading cause of teenage deaths related to traumatic brain injury.
Unfortunately, because we tend to only look for head and spine injuries (or other major trauma such as broken bones) after an accident, we fail to notice seemingly small injuries that make a huge difference in our daily lives. A prime example? Carpal tunnel syndrome. Most people don't know that this injury can result directly from car accidents; they think of it as an overuse injury and therefore assume that it has developed over time. This misconception prevents many victims from obtaining the justice and monetary damages they deserve.
Below, we examine the science behind the surprisingly close relationship between car accidents and carpal tunnel syndrome. Read on to learn more about this devastating injury — and how you can secure justice.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? What Are the Symptoms?
A common condition that impacts over eight million people each year, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) causes pain, numbness, or tingling in the hand and wrist. It results from the excessive compression of the median nerve — one of the chief nerves leading to the hand. The condition is named after a space in the wrist known as the carpal tunnel. This is where the median nerve and several tendons pass from your forearm to your hand.
Typically, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome appear gradually. Sufferers may not seek treatment until several months after they've begun to experience symptoms. Tingling or numbness of the thumb, middle, and index fingers typically occur first, but may not last more than a few moments in the early stages of the condition. Typically, these sensations will not target the pinky finger — or at least, not at first.
Over time, tingling associated with carpal tunnel syndrome becomes more frequent and may travel beyond the fingers to include the wrist and forearm. This may eventually make it difficult to complete daily tasks such as typing, driving, or grasping objects.
Other common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Weakness of the hand
- Dropping objects
- Pain and discomfort in the palm of the hand and the wrist
- The sensation of swelling, even if no swelling actually occurs
- Constantly feeling the need to 'shake out' the wrist or hand
- Difficulty sleeping
Patients who wait too long to seek treatment may suffer permanent damage to nerves or muscles impacted by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Car Wrecks and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What the Science Says
While most studies involving car accident injuries focus on typical head and spine trauma, a growing body of research delves into the impact car accidents can have on the nerves and tendons of the hand and wrist. From bone fractures to shearing injuries, it's increasingly clear that a variety of acute injuries suffered during car wrecks can ultimately lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. A few of the most compelling studies about blunt trauma and carpal tunnel syndrome are highlighted below:
Experts sometimes refer to injuries obtained through trauma (as opposed to overtime through repetition) as acute or traumatic carpal tunnel syndrome. A Mayo Clinic study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery shed light on the origin of these trauma-induced injuries. Researchers determined that the carpal tunnel process often begins with a 'shearing injury,' in which connecting nerve fibers are torn. During the healing process, scar tissue prevents the typical sliding motion of the tendon, thereby cutting off the nerve supply and causing the pressure associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.Researchers hope that recent revelations from the Mayo Clinic will lead to earlier and more effective treatments. In personal injury cases, these findings can help car accident victims prove that their suffering is the direct result of a shearing injury that occurred during the accident. In the future, researchers hope to better clarify the sequence of events that begins with a shearing injury and ends with CTS.
Risk Factors For Acute Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A study published in the International Journal of Surgery strengthens the link other researchers have uncovered between acute injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome. This particular study involves risk factors that make the development of CTS more likely following distal radius injuries. The median age of study respondents who suffered CTS was 56 years. The majority of patients were female. This is consistent with previous findings that women suffer CTS more frequently — perhaps because their carpal tunnel area tends to be smaller than that of men, leading to greater compression.
In this study, symptoms of the condition typically occurred one week after the victim suffered trauma. Perhaps the most notable risk factor? Type C complete articular fractures.
Post-Fracture Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Many car accident victims suffer severe fractures. According to a study published in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Related Median Neuropathies, broken wrists and metacarpal (bones in the hand) fractures are often responsible for CTS. Experts claim that, regardless of initial symptoms, suspicion of acute CTS should be high for patients who have suffered "high-energy fractures and dislocations." Few fractures are higher energy than those suffered in car crashes.
Carpal Tunnel Versus Trigger Finger
A study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation revealed that some patients suffering neck pain following car accidents also suffered carpal tunnel or trigger finger. These conditions are frequently seen in the same patients; both injuries prompt pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. Researchers involved in the study theorize that both trigger finger and carpal tunnel can occur in response to car crash victims tightly grasping the steering wheel as they attempt to swerve or brace for impact.
As the causes of acute carpal tunnel syndrome (and associated disorders) become clear, patients enjoy greater potential for recovering personal injury damages. This is wonderful news for car crash victims, who can suffer greatly following wrist injuries. Not only does carpal tunnel syndrome require extensive rehabilitation, it can lead to significant loss of income for those unable to complete fine motor tasks at work. A greater understanding of carpal tunnel syndrome and its origins can lead to quicker diagnosis and more substantial personal injury damages.
Do you suspect that your carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by a negligent driver? You deserve justice. Contact us today to learn more about our approach to personal injury and how we can help you hold negligent drivers accountable.