What To Expect After Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Carpal tunnel is a very painful syndrome, and once you experience symptoms, you’ll want to do everything you can to relieve the pain. After living with the flare-ups and pain for so long, the only option might be surgery. If your carpal tunnel leads to surgery, knowing what to expect after surgery will benefit your recovery.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located in your wrist where the median nerve and tendons give your fingers movement. Your wrist is made up of a bone located on the bottom, and across the top is the carpal ligament. If this part of the body is tight or injured, the tissue in that tunnel will swell. This swelling causes pressure on the median nerve, which results in tingling and numbness in the hand.
If left untreated, you could lose the function of the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome typically starts slowly and can progressively get worse as time goes on. The pain typically is worse on the side of the hand that the thumb is on.
It was once believed that carpal tunnel syndrome occurred due to repetitive motion of the wrist or hand or because of overuse from work. Recent research shows that carpal tunnel syndrome is likely due to a congenital predisposition meaning it runs in the family. Some people have carpal tunnels that are small in size, increasing the chance of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
If you suffer a fracture or sprain of the wrist or use a vibrating tool repetitively, you also increase your chances of getting carpal tunnel. Pregnancy, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes have also been linked to carpal tunnel syndrome.

When Is Surgery Required For Carpal Tunnel?

what to expect after carpal tunnel surgery
Going under the knife is always a scary and last resort for most people. With carpal tunnel syndrome, some non-surgery options can be tried before a doctor wants to perform surgery. Over-the-counter medication, wrist splints, physical therapy, steroid shots, or changing equipment at work are things that your doctor may have you try first. Surgery might be recommended within 2 months depending on the severity if these options are not successful and the patient continues to suffer from the pain.
The doctor may also perform an electromyography test to determine that carpal tunnel syndrome is present. If the pinching of the median nerve is severe enough that it is causing the muscles to weaken in the hands or wrists, a doctor will want to perform surgery.

What Does Carpal Tunnel Surgery Entail?

There are two types of carpal tunnel surgery. Traditional surgery is known as the open procedure method. With this method, the doctor will make an incision about two inches long on the wrist to perform the surgery. A newer method is the endoscopic release method, where the doctor will make two small incisions and insert a camera and robotic tools to perform the surgery.
Both types of surgeries are typically outpatient surgery, meaning you’re released the same day. During the procedure, the surgeon will use a local anesthetic to numb the wrist and hand so that you will remain awake during the procedure. Then the surgeon will cut the carpal ligament and possibly try to enlarge the tunnel. Once the surgery is complete, the surgeon will stitch up the incision or incisions, splint or bandage the wrist so that you cannot move your wrist, monitor you for a short time, and send you home that same day.

What To Expect After Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Following your doctor’s orders is the best thing you can do to experience optimal recovery. Your doctor will likely have you elevate your wrist above your heart to keep the swelling down. Icing the surgical site, massaging the palm of your hand, taking your pain medication, and moving your fingers are all recommendations your doctor may make.
To give your incisions time to heal, you will want to wait 24 to 48 hours after your surgery to shower. When you shower, you have to keep your bandages on and avoid getting them wet by wrapping them with plastic. You’ll want to ice and elevate your wrist every one to two hours for 10 to 20 minutes to keep the swelling down. It’s also vital to rest because sleep will improve your recovery time.
In the weeks following your surgery, you can expect to have your stitches removed, then begin physical therapy. Physical therapy works on increasing your range of motion and reducing stiffness in your fingers. It’s vital to complete the exercises that your therapist teaches you to gain back complete mobility. The pain should also start to improve as you slowly begin to return to normal activities. If the surgery was performed on your non-dominant hand and your job does not require repetitive work or lifting, you might be able to return to light-duty work in seven to 14 days.
Carpal tunnel surgery can take several months to a year for a full recovery. If you have open release surgery, your recovery time is generally longer as the procedure is slightly more invasive. However, you should have the full range of motion back after a month if you follow the physical therapist and doctor’s orders. You should also be able to return to work after six to eight weeks if the surgery was done on your dominant hand.
You may continue to feel soreness or sensitivity to touch or deep pressure, but you should be back to complete your daily activities. After a year, you should have full strength and range of motion back and experience all of the benefits and relief of the surgery.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is very treatable. It is best to seek medical advice early on, decreasing the likelihood that the syndrome progresses. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you’ll be on the road to recovery. The longer you wait, the more damage you could cause to the median nerve, which will decrease your chances of a full recovery. If you’d like to learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome and surgery, contact the knowledgeable team at The Hand and Wrist Institute. With more than 20 years of experience specializing in hand and wrist injuries, The Hand and Wrist Institute seeks the very best solution for each patient.

Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.