Neuropathy and Long-Term Disability
While only an inconvenience for some, neuropathy can be debilitating for others. Unfortunately, peripheral nerve disorders — such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and diabetic neuropathy — are sometimes difficult to diagnose and understand.
In this blog, Bryant Legal Group discusses the diverse causes of peripheral nerve damage, common treatment options, and suggestions for your long-term disability (LTD) claim.
What Are Peripheral Nerves?
Your nervous system is made up of two essential parts. First, your central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord, processes and responds to information. Second, your peripheral nervous system, uses nerves that run throughout your body to connect the central nervous system with your muscles, organs, and other structures.
There are three main types of peripheral nerves:
- Autonomic nerves control unconscious activities — like breathing, heartbeat, and digestion
- Motor nerves control intentional muscle movements — letting you walk, talk, reach, and grasp
- Sensory nerves transmit information that your brain interprets as touch, temperature, and pain
Doctors frequently compare your peripheral nerves to telephone lines or internet cables. When they malfunction, the messages they transmit can become garbled, misconstrued, or even lost. Common symptoms include numbness, tingling, burning pain, sensitivity to touch, and muscle weakness.
Doctors refer to these malfunctions as peripheral nerve disorders or neuropathy, and there are more than 100 different known peripheral disorder diagnoses. Today, an estimated 20 million people live with a nerve disorder.
What Causes Peripheral Nerve Disorders?
Because peripheral nerve disorders cover a wide variety of diseases and conditions, neuropathy has many known causes.
Overuse injuries, swelling, and inflammation can lead to pressure on your nerves. Over time, this pressure can damage the nerve. Common nerve disorders due to compression include median neuropathy (carpal tunnel syndrome) and ulnar neuropathy (cubital tunnel syndrome).
Pressure from herniated discs and other spine problems can cause a different type of nerve damage called radiculopathy. It involves pressure at the nerve’s root and can cause shooting pain, motor weakness, and other serious symptoms.
Car accidents, sports injuries, falls, and other traumatic events can lead to nerve damage when nerves are cut, torn, or stretched. Brachial plexus injuries, peroneal nerve damage, and compression injuries are examples of traumatic nerve damage.
When viruses and bacteria attack your nerves, you might experience nerve damage. You might experience nerve pain and dysfunction due to shingles, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other viruses. People with HIV are particularly susceptible to nerve damage; roughly 30% of HIV patients experience peripheral neuropathy and another 20% suffer from distal neuropathic pain.
Diabetes and Other Chronic Conditions
Diabetes is the top cause of polyneuropathy in the United States; about 60-70 percent of diabetics experience some form of nerve damage. However, other chronic conditions — including high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, and cancer — can also damage your nerves.
Unfortunately, doctors can’t always pinpoint an exact cause of your nerve damage. Sometimes called idiopathic neuropathy, you might be diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy if you exhibit signs of a peripheral nerve disorder, but it is unclear what it is causing it.
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Can Doctors Fix My Nerve Damage?
Depending on your type of peripheral nerve disorder, its severity, and its cause, your doctor will suggest a treatment plan. Sometimes, this plan involves surgery, medications, devices like a TENS unit, assistive devices like canes and braces, and lifestyle changes.
Unlike brain and spinal nerves, your peripheral nerves continue to grow throughout your life. This makes them more resilient and can allow for a fuller recovery. However, while doctors can repair herniated discs, remove pressure from your carpal tunnel, and prescribe medications that minimize your pain, they cannot repair every damaged nerve.
Can I Receive LTD Benefits for Neuropathy?
If you only experience some occasional tingling in your fingers, you probably are not eligible for long-term disability benefits. However, many people with peripheral nerve disorders qualify for long-term disability.
Depending on your LTD plan, you must prove that you are either unable to perform your work or any occupation. This analysis requires a careful assessment of your physical and mental abilities, side effects from your medications and treatment plan, and your work history and education.
What to Do If the Insurance Company Says Your Diagnostic Studies Aren’t Consistent With Your Complaints
Because there are so many different forms of neuropathy, even the best doctors sometimes have a hard time diagnosing nerve damage. Unfortunately, insurance companies tend to oversimplify their analysis of disabling nerve damage. If you had a nerve study, such as an EMG (electromyography) or NCV (nerve conduction velocity test) that was “within normal limits,” it could result in a denied LTD claim.
However, while diagnostic tests like EMGs and NCTs can help diagnose peripheral nerve disorders, they are not perfect. Something as simple as a technician placing an EMG needle electrode in the incorrect position can impact the results. For this reason, it’s always best to have a well-trained and certified technician conduct your nerve conduction studies. Repeat studies can also help track your condition’s progression.
If the insurance company denied your long-term disability claim due to a “normal” nerve study, it’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced disability insurance lawyer.
Bryant Legal Group: Fighting for People With Serious Nerve Damage
Bryant Legal Group’s respected disability insurance lawyers are known for their sophisticated legal strategies and client-focused results. If you’re struggling with a nerve disorder and are considering applying for long-term disability benefits, please contact our office for a free consultation. We can help you understand your legal options.
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