To evaluate the connection between the type of patient insurance and the time taken to return to work after carpal tunnel surgery.

Two hundred and thirty-three patients in full-time work were operated on for carpal tunnel syndrome between 1 January and 30 June 1998. They were divided into three groups: independent workers (n=87), wage earners in the private sector (n=90) and civil servants (n=56). Four categories were defined: manual workers, non-manual workers, patients with social security insurance and patients with workers compensation. The average return-to-work interval after surgery for each of the groups was evaluated and compared group by group.

For independent workers the average time off work is 17 days, for those in the private sector it is 35 days, and for civil servants it is 56 days. Patients with social security insurance were off work for 32 days and those with workers compensation for 49 days.

The comparison shows significant differences with regard to social security insurance: the return-to-work interval in civil servants is larger than for private sector workers, and this is higher than in independent workers. The difference between patients with workers compensation and those with social security insurance is 17 days and significant. There is a significant difference between manual and non-manual workers in independent and private sector workers. There is no significant difference between the sub-groups in the civil servants. These cross references enable us to work out the influence that social security status has on the return-to-work time following surgery.