Carpal tunnel may not seem like a disability. But whether you developed carpal tunnel on its own or it resulted from another condition, it is possible to get disability for your carpal tunnel.
If your carpal tunnel makes it impossible to work, you may qualify for monthly benefits and healthcare. Here’s what you should know before applying for benefits.
A note: Many people who get disability for carpal tunnel have additional injuries or conditions. If, for example, you have COPD that makes it difficult to walk long distances, carpal tunnel that makes it difficult to type or work with your hands, and anxiety that makes customer-facing roles a challenge—those things in combination can “disqualify” you from many jobs. That could help qualify you for disability.
Alternatively, you can take our 2-minute disability quiz to get immediate insight into your eligibility. When you’re done, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to one of our client advocates—who can give you further, personalized advice.
Is carpal tunnel a disability?
The short answer is yes, the SSA can consider carpal tunnel a disability. But the reality is that it can be challenging to get monthly benefits and healthcare for your carpal tunnel. Here’s why:
How the SSA defines carpal tunnel
It can be difficult to qualify for disability with carpal tunnel because the SSA doesn’t have an official definition for it. The SSA uses what’s called the Blue Book to list official conditions and their associated symptoms. As of 2022, carpal tunnel does not appear in the Blue Book.
This means that whether or not the SSA defines carpal tunnel as a disability has less to do with the condition itself and more to do with how it impacts your ability to work. Carpal tunnel can cause numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness radiating from the pointer finger and them, and these symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe.
It may be difficult to qualify for disability if your carpal tunnel is mild or moderate, but your odds of approval are higher if your carpal tunnel is severe or requires surgery.
Can you get disability for carpal tunnel?
Yes, you can get disability for your carpal tunnel. But qualifying isn’t easy. You’ll have to provide thorough documentation that proves you cannot work because of your carpal tunnel.
A disability lawyer can also increase your odds of approval, and help you ensure you have enough medically-acceptable proof to qualify.
Criteria for getting disability for carpal tunnel
Unlike conditions that do appear in the SSA Blue Book, the criteria for getting disability for carpal tunnel is rather broad.
Some criteria to consider are:
You developed carpal tunnel because of another condition that appears in the SSA Blue Book: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can cause carpal tunnel and have their own listing in the Blue Book. If this is the case, your odds of approval may be higher if you seek benefits for the original condition and not your carpal tunnel.
You’re over the age of 50: If you’re over the age of 50, you may have an easier time getting approved. The eligibility rules for social security disability change after 50. If you’re over 50, you have to prove to the SSA that your condition prevents you from doing work you used to do. If you’re under 50, qualifying can be trickier because you have to prove that you can’t do any work, even if you were to retrain.
You may also qualify if the severity of the following symptoms make it difficult to complete activities your job requires:
Tingling or numbness: This can affect just the thumb and hand, or it can extend up the arm. It can be mild or present like an electric shock during tasks like holding a steering wheel or picking up the phone, both of which can impact your work.
Weakness: Carpal tunnel can weaken your hands and fingers and make it difficult to hold things.
Nerve damage: In more severe cases, carpal tunnel can cause irreversible nerve damage that results in pain and tingling.
Consider applying if you answer “yes” to most of, or all of, the criteria below:
Do my symptoms make it difficult for me to complete tasks at work, like answering the phone or holding a steering wheel?
What are the regular activities I can’t do because of my carpal tunnel?
Does my carpal tunnel impact my current job, or would it interfere with any job no matter how I retrain?
How often do I drop things or otherwise fail to complete tasks because of my carpal tunnel?
My carpal tunnel meets the criteria. Now what?
If you think your carpal tunnel is severe enough to qualify and you have plenty of documentation, it’s time to apply! You can still apply if you’re unsure whether your carpal tunnel meets the criteria, but the application is time consuming and may only be worth it if your chances of approval are high. Here’s what we suggest:
Apply now if:
You’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel AND
Your symptoms make it impossible to work AND
You are already seeing a doctor for treatment AND
Your carpal tunnel may require surgery
Consider waiting and applying later if:
You’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel but the symptoms are moderate OR
You’re still at work, even if you’re worried you might have to stop soon
Probably don’t apply if:
Your carpal tunnel symptoms are difficult to live with, but they don’t stop you from working
You’re working, earning more than $1,400 per month, and don’t plan to stop
You can also take our 2-minute disability quiz to find out whether or not you qualify before you apply. If you do qualify, we can connect you with a qualified lawyer who can increase your odds of approval. (You won’t have to pay your lawyer until you get approved for disability benefits).
Which types of benefits should you apply for?
The SSA has two types of disability benefits programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). You can increase your odds of approval by applying for the right program for your situation. If you’ve worked at least five of the last ten years, consider SSDI. If you don’t have much work history and little to no monthly income, SSI might be a better fit.
You can also qualify for both programs. SSDI and SSI use the same application, so you can try for both and see which will give you the most assistance.
What if my carpal tunnel doesn’t meet the criteria?
Qualifying for disability can be challenging no matter how severe your condition is. It can be even more difficult to qualify for carpal tunnel since the SSA doesn’t have a standard for that condition.
If you are under the age of 50 and your condition is mild or moderate, you might wait to see how your condition develops before you apply. If you’re over the age of 50 and/or your condition is severe enough to cause nerve damage or even require surgery, applying might be well worth the time.
It’s also worth noting that only ~20% of people who apply for disability benefits win their claim on their first application. Even if you don’t get approved the first time, your odds of approval go up when you appeal in front of a judge. At this stage, nearly half of applicants get approved—proof that there is light at the end of the tunnel. For even more support, check out our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.
How much is a disability check for carpal tunnel?
Since carpal tunnel isn’t in the Blue Book, your disability check may vary greatly and be very dependent on your personal work and income history. SSDI has a maximum monthly benefit of $3,627, while SSI has a maximum monthly benefit of $914 in 2023.
That amount remains the same regardless of how severe your condition is. Because the SSA doesn’t have a set amount for carpal tunnel, they’ll likely put greater weight on your work history if you’re applying for SSDI, and your other sources of income if you’re applying for SSI.
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