Does Insurance Coverage Affect Use of Tests and Treatments for Working Age Individuals With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in the United States? Analysis of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (2005-2014)

Published:April 16, 2019DOI:


      • People with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are much more likely to use private insurance than workers’ compensation insurance (WCI).
      • People with CTS using WCI often receive less diagnostic testing and more treatments.
      • Treatment for people with CTS may not match best practice guidelines.



      Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is frequently seen as a work-related disorder. Few studies have examined the treatment of CTS by insurance coverage, and none have used a large, population-based dataset. This study examined the extent to which the use of CTS tests and treatments varied for those on workers’ compensation insurance (WCI) vs private insurance and Medicaid, controlling for patient and provider characteristics.


      Analysis of 10 years of data (2005-2014) from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.


      United States office-based physician practices.


      Adults 18-64 years who had a physician visit for CTS (N=23,236,449).


      Not applicable.

      Main Outcome Measures

      We examined use of 2 diagnostic tests, imaging and electromyography, and 7 treatments: casting, splinting, occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), carpal tunnel release surgery, steroid injections, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).


      Individuals who sought care for CTS were more likely to be covered by private insurance (56.9%) than WCI (9.8%) or Medicaid (6.5%). The most commonly prescribed treatment for all types of insurance coverage was splints, followed by NSAID prescription, and OT or PT therapies. Steroid injections (1.2%) and CTS surgery (4.5%) were used significantly less than other treatment types. Patients on WCI were less likely to receive diagnostic tests, and more likely to receive OT or PT than those on other types of insurance coverage.


      Patients with CTS who seek ambulatory care are most likely to be covered by private insurance. Insurance coverage appears to play a role in treatment and diagnostic choices for CTS.


      List of abbreviations:

      CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome), EMG (electromyography), ICD-9-CM (International Classification of Diseases–9th Revision–Clinical Modifications), NAMCS (National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey), NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), OT (occupational therapy), PT (physical therapy), WCI (workers’ compensation insurance)
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