Clinical Update: Assessing Maximum Medical Improvement in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Christopher R. Brigham
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James B. Talmage
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Abstract

Permanent impairment cannot be assessed until the patient is at maximum medical improvement (MMI), but the proper time to test following carpal tunnel release often is not clear. The AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides) states: “Factors affecting nerve recovery in compression lesions include nerve fiber pathology, level of injury, duration of injury, and status of end organs,” but age is not prognostic. The AMA Guides clarifies: “High axonotmesis lesions may take 1 to 2 years for maximum recovery, whereas even lesions at the wrist may take 6 to 9 months for maximal recovery of nerve function.” The authors review 3 studies that followed patients’ long-term recovery of hand function after open carpal tunnel release surgery and found that estimates of MMI ranged from 25 weeks to 24 months (for “significant improvement”) to 18 to 24 months. The authors suggest that if the early results of surgery suggest a patient's improvement in the activities of daily living (ADL) and an examination shows few or no symptoms, the result can be assessed early. If major symptoms and ADL problems persist, the examiner should wait at least 6 to 12 months, until symptoms appear to stop improving. A patient with carpal tunnel syndrome who declines a release can be rated for impairment, and, as appropriate, the physician may wish to make a written note of this in the medical evaluation report.

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