Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway that allows the median nerve and various tendons serving the hands and fingers to function properly. This tunnel passes between a ligament above it and wrist bones below, meaning that any injury to the wrist can reduce the size of the passageway and compromise range of motion and function in the hand. Typically, the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome start slowly and progressively get worse until the patient seeks specialized help from an orthopedic surgeon. The pain and dysfunction associated with carpal tunnel syndrome is often worse at the thumb and index finger.

Carpal tunnel release surgery is only considered after conservative treatment including anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, steroids and wrist immobilization have not relieved the pain or dysfunction in the hand. We try these nonsurgical options for about six months before considering more invasive, surgical options. However, surgery may be considered sooner if dysfunction the hand is particularly severe or if there is noticeable atrophy of the muscles in the hands or wrists.

How Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery Works

Carpal tunnel release surgery is a simple procedure. During surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will cut through the ligament narrowing the carpal tunnel and affecting the median nerve and tendons. By eliminating this pressure, function is usually improved almost immediately after surgery.

The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, so no hospital stay is necessary. Almost all carpal tunnel release surgery is performed using local, not general, anesthesia.

The procedure can be performed using the open technique, employing a single 2-inch incision along the lower palm of the hand into the wrist or endoscopically, which uses two smaller incisions; one in the palm and one at the wrist. Your orthopedic surgeon will discuss which option is best for your particular situation.

Recovery from Carpal Tunnel Surgery

After surgery, you will be sent home with pain medication and your wrist will be bandaged or in a splint for up to two weeks. You will be asked to move your fingers regularly to avoid stiffness and maintain range of motion. Once the splint or bandages are removed, you will likely have a short course of physical therapy to improve the range of motion and ensure proper healing of the wrist and hand. Complete recovery time can vary widely depending on what activities you expect to perform.

Risks of Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks associated with carpal tunnel release surgery. However, these risks are mitigated by employing an experienced orthopedic surgeon such as those at Premier Orthopaedic & Trauma Specialists. The most common risks of carpal tunnel release surgery may include:

  • The risks inherent any surgery including bleeding, infection and pain
  • Injury to nerves in the wrist or hand
  • Injury to blood vessels
  • Incomplete recovery due to long-term compression of the median nerve

Prognosis of Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

For the vast majority of patients, carpal tunnel release surgery offers swift resolution to the worst of their symptoms. Most patients experience excellent return to normal activity within a few weeks to a few months of the procedure. It is important to remember that addressing carpal tunnel syndrome early allows for better long-term results, whether the treatment is ultimately non-surgical or surgical. However, the expectations of surgery largely depend on the individual, so please speak to your orthopedic surgeon about the risks and benefits of carpal tunnel release surgery.