After trying all the noninvasive treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), you and your physician may decide that surgery is your best option to get relief from your CTS symptoms. Typically, surgery means cutting a ligament called flexor retinaculum which holds other tendons in the wrist in their places. By cutting this ligament, pressure on the median nerve is released and with that, your symptoms should subside, too. Let’s check out some FAQs:
How is the surgery performed?
Your physician has two surgical options: open carpal tunnel release and endoscopic carpal tunnel release. Open carpal tunnel release means that you will have one cut made on your wrist, and through that same incision, the doctor will cut the flexor retinaculum. With endoscopic carpal tunnel release, you will have two incisions, one on your palm and one on your wrist. Your doctor will insert a small camera into one cut and use the other opening to cut through the flexor retinaculum. Both surgical methods achieve the same result, though the endoscopic carpal tunnel release usually means you can go back to work faster. Most of the time, carpal tunnel release surgery is performed on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic.
How quickly will my symptoms go away?
Most symptoms go away after surgery unless you have some nerve damage. Some studies show that a few patients still had tingling or numbness up to 9 months after the surgery. However, at least 75 percent of people who undergo carpal tunnel release surgery are free of symptoms years later, so the treatment appears to be fairly effective long-term.
Are there risks I should know about?
There may be some numbness or bruising on your hand after the surgery which might last a few weeks. Occasionally, people might have minor issues with the scar from the incision. If the median nerve is damaged, more serious complications can occur such as a swollen hand, pain, and numbness that doesn’t go away. Serious complications only occur in 1 percent of all surgeries, so they are infrequent. When surgery doesn’t resolve CTS, most of the time it is due to a misdiagnosis, advanced stages of CTS which couldn’t be helped, or surgical error.
What restrictions on activity will I have after surgery?
You will have some stitches which are removed after two weeks, and your hand will be bandaged initially. Some physicians recommend wearing a splint for a few days to rest the wrist, but others think this is unnecessary. You’ll want to avoid heavy lifting and strain for a few weeks. If your job doesn’t strain your wrist, you might be able to go back to work in as little as 3 weeks, but if your job requires more physical activity, particularly work with the hands, you’ll need 4-5 weeks to recover.
Carpal tunnel release surgery may be the last resort in treating CTS, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Understanding the procedure will help you move through the surgery and post-op recovery with flying colors! You can count on Doctorpedia for helpful videos and articles as you and your physician decide on the best treatment for you!
- Bland, J. (2007). Clinical review: Carpal tunnel syndrome. BMJ 335(7615), 343-6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1949464/
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: When is surgery considered or needed? (2017). InformedHealth.org. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279597/
- Louie, D., Earp, B., & Blazar, P. (2012). Long-term outcomes of carpal tunnel release: a critical review of the literature. Hand (NY) 7(3), 242-6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3418353/
Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.