Hand Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Posted By Matthew Clawson || 29-Aug-2014

In the weeks following a car accident, and as the neck and back injuries begin to recede, those involved in a serious car accident may find that their hands start to hurt. It may start with some vague numbness and tingling that won't go away, then sometimes one or both hands begin to swell for no reason, finally the pain and discomfort becomes a burning pain, constant enough to interrupt a night's sleep. This condition can be demonstrated on electrical conduction nerve studies (EMG) in a doctor's office and it is likely going to be diagnosed as "carpal tunnel syndrome."

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve (one of three major nerves connecting the spinal cord to the hand) becomes pinched within the wrist bone structure—in an area of the hand called the carpal tunnel. Nerves and blood vessels pass directly through the bony carpal tunnel into the hand. The median nerve is responsible for sensations in the hand, as well as hand movement. When it is pinched, it may feel like the hand has gone to sleep, or even sensations such as burning, itching, tingling may occur in the palm of the hand or in the thumb and fingers. Sometimes there may be shooting pains up or down the arm—which will send doctors looking first to see if the condition is coming from a neck injury.

The usual explanation for this painful condition used to be that it was from some kind of "repetitive motion" injury (such as unremitting keyboard work, or grocery store check out maneuvers). Then it was determined that using particular hand tools, such as scissors or vibrating tools, for a long period could also cause it. In years past was generally assumed by doctors (and insurance adjusters) that carpal tunnel syndrome could not be caused by the trauma forces experienced in a car accident. Experiences of doctors who specialize in the treatment of auto injuries, and the lawyers who help those auto accident victims, showed there was a connection between the car accident and carpal tunnel syndrome.

In 1996, a paper published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, documented the experience of doctors who treat auto injury patients. That study found that symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome developed in 96 patients within 2 months after an auto accident. The symptoms were severe enough to require 46% of those patients to have surgery to release the compressed nerve. The doctor presenting this paper suggested that the mechanism of injury was blunt trauma to one or both hands from the driver gripping the steering wheel, or a passenger pressing hands into the dashboard during the collision.

A more recent fact sheet published on the topic of "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services observed that individuals may be predisposed to a compressed median nerve in the wrist if, for example, their bony carpal tunnel is simply small. Other predispositions to this syndrome include such conditions as obesity, over activity of the pituitary gland, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis. The Department of Health and Human Services paper also noted that trauma or injury to the wrist that causes swelling, such as a sprain or fracture, may also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

The individual predisposition for the syndrome may help to explain why not every driver who grips the steering wheel in a collision ends up with carpal tunnel syndrome. It also explains that those who do suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome after a car accident are not making this stuff up. Those who experience the misery of carpal tunnel syndrome after a car accident should be treated as an auto injury patient and compensated for those injuries from the driver who caused the car accident.

Once the carpal tunnel syndrome has been confirmed in the nerve studies, often the next step in treating the syndrome is a cortisone injection, which may decrease the swelling in the carpal tunnel such that inflamed tendons will slide more freely. Sometimes that is all that is needed, but often the cortisone shot will only alleviate symptoms for a week or two. Sometimes a doctor will also prescribe a particular hand splint so that the hand is held in a neutral position for several weeks to allow the inflamed nerves and tendons to calm down, ultimately resolving the syndrome. If there is some relief from the shot, but the splint does not resolve the pain and numbness, that helps the doctor to know that the carpal tunnel passage is still pinching the nerves and the symptoms can then be resolved with surgery.

If you have been in a car accident and you have hand pain, don't minimize the condition. It is a serious condition that, left untreated, will cause permanent damage to your hand. If this condition is caused by a car accident—or starts within weeks of a car accident—be sure to let your doctor know that is when it started and insist on treatment for your hands as part of your auto injury treatment. Insurance companies paying for your auto injury may not always agree that your carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by the car accident, and that is why it is always a good idea to obtain an initial consultation with experienced personal injury attorneys such as Clawson & Clawson LLP. The initial consultation is free and will help you to understand your options in fighting for proper compensation for your auto injuries.

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