Carpal tunnel surgery has been a rising source of malpractice litigation in recent years. It is among the most likely reasons for claims against hand surgeons and the cases tend to have medical complexity. With this rise in the number of cases, many medical practitioners are making improvements in their standard practices, procedures, and surgical techniques. Recent studies have sought to compile and assess data to understand the most frequent problems that are leading to post-surgical claims and other key characteristics.
- In claims of medical malpractice involving surgical procedures for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, the average payouts were very similar between cases ending in both verdicts and settlements.
- In these cases of malpractice, the most frequently cited problems included nerve damage, chronic pain, and numbness, and a combination of burning, tenderness, and swelling sometimes referred to as regional sympathetic dystrophy.
- The defendant prevailed in cases ending in a verdict over 69% of the time.
- Plaintiffs had an average age of 40 years and roughly 76% were female.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
According to the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the condition develops when there is significant pressure on the median nerve located within the hand. This occurs in the region close to where the wrist meets the palm. Many of those who develop carpal tunnel are those that conduct continuous motions using their hands that are repetitive. This repetition and frequency of stress to the area may lead to swelling and pain in the tendons.
Treatment options may be surgical or nonsurgical and are often determined by the magnitude of pain and severity of symptoms. Often a device is used to stabilize the hand and wrist, and those exhibiting early signs of the condition may strongly consider changing or discontinuing whatever activity is creating the problem. When the problem is detected early, the individual has the best chance of preventing the progression of the problem.
Doctors may treat the condition through the usage of a splint. This is something that is worn to keep the wrist aligned and lessen the nerve-related pressure. Often sufferers will work with a physical or occupational therapist to assess and improve their work environment or the manner in which they complete repetitive tasks. In addition, the practitioner may recommend certain exercises that assist with relieving the problem. Anti-inflammatory medications are often a source of relief for many. There are also steroid injections used, such as cortisone, which may improve the symptoms.
The common surgical procedure is known as carpal tunnel release. An incision is made at the top of the carpal tunnel which widens the tunnel and reduces pressure on the median nerve. The procedure can be done with an endoscope where small incisions allow a very small camera to view the interior of the wrist. The surgery can be done as an outpatient surgery and many experience less pain and reduced recovery periods following the endoscopic method. After the procedure, the patient will have timely follow-up doctor visits and often are advised to wear a splint or other device and/or exercise the hand and wrist to increase strength.