Nowadays, it is common to spend hours at work using your hands in repetitive motions and texting on mobile devices, which has caused carpal tunnel syndrome to become prevalent in modern society. Once the tingling, the most common symptom, has become so uncomfortable that it wakes you up at night, it is often the time for carpal tunnel surgery, sometimes referred to as carpal tunnel release.
To help you guide you through the process, here is a look at what you can expect from carpal tunnel surgery and recovery.
Understanding Carpal Tunnel
The carpal tunnel is a space made up of bones that ligaments that connects the wrist to the hand. Inside the tunnel is the median nerve and tendons. Together, the nerve and tendons provide most of the sensation and movement to the fingers and thumb.
Inflammation of the tissues that provide lubrication will cause crowding in the flexor tendons, which in turn puts pressure on the median nerve. Together, this process causes the sensations and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, such as tingling, numbness, discomfort and pain, and can even reduce the ability to use the hand. Once the carpal tunnel has progressed to a certain point beyond the help of nonsurgical methods, you will likely need carpal tunnel surgery.
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Surgery Overview: Pre- and Post-Op Info
- Before carpal tunnel surgery, you will go through a series of pre-op tests to determine your overall health and fitness for surgery.
- You will need to tell your doctor about any medications and supplements (including vitamins and herbal remedies) that you take. You may be instructed to stop taking some medications, such as daily aspirin, that can interfere with the surgery and healing process. If you happen to be a smoker, quitting before your surgery is recommended because smoking significantly delays your body’s ability to heal from the procedure.
- Prior to your surgery, you may need blood tests and an ECG (electrocardiogram) to further determine your health.
- Don’t eat anything for six to 12 hours before your surgery, according to your doctor’s instructions.
- Make arrangements for transportation to your surgical appointment because you won’t be able to drive after the procedure. It can also be a good idea to have someone available to help you after surgery since your hands will be bandaged.
Recovery from carpal tunnel surgery is usually reasonably quick and painless. Immediately after surgery, your doctor will advise you to keep your hands elevated and above your heart to reduce swelling. You can resume cautious use of your hands, but be sure to avoid anything that is heavy or that you have to grip tightly. You may notice some weakness in your hands and lingering soreness for up to several months after surgery, but most patients see a noticeable improvement in carpal tunnel symptoms within three to six weeks after the procedure.
A Look at the Procedure
Carpal tunnel surgery is a fairly straightforward procedure with minimal complications. It is also an outpatient procedure, which means both carpal tunnel surgery and its recovery are simple.
Carpal tunnel surgery is typically performed with local, regional or light sedative anesthesia. It can be done using traditional surgical methods in which a small incision is placed in the palm of the hand, or it can be performed endoscopically, with a small camera placed in a mini-incision.
Both procedures have pros and cons, as well as different risks and outcomes. For example, while endoscopic surgery typically results in reduced scarring, it can be less effective and not all patients may qualify to be candidates. In either procedure, your doctor will divide the transverse ligament to alleviate pressure on the median nerve.
Although it is possible for the ligament to regrow, it is highly unlikely, which is why carpal tunnel surgery is considered a long-term solution.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery Recovery
Carpal tunnel surgery usually takes less than an hour and can sometimes take as little as 15 minutes. Once the anesthesia wears off, you will likely experience some discomfort in the hand and oral pain medications can help. Your surgeon may also have you sleep with your hands elevated in an effort to decrease swelling. You will be asked to move your fingers in order to reduce stiffness. While at the treatment center, you will make a follow-up appointment for a week or two later where the bandages and possible splint will be removed.
Once your bandages have been removed and your pain is under control, you will likely need physical therapy to aid in your recovery. Physical therapy will strengthen your wrist and improve flexibility through a series of exercises that will help speed up your healing process.
Carpal tunnel surgery and recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, although it may be up to several months before you regain full function. Each case is different, so be sure to consult with your doctor to determine if you will need to take time off from work, and ask about any activities that you may have to limit.