close icon



News & Insights

surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Surgery: When is it Time & What to Expect?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by the pressure on the median nerve, located in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in your wrist, between your hand and forearm, where your finger flexor tendons and median nerve run. As a result of carpal tunnel syndrome, your thumb and hand become weak and unreliable, especially when the fingers are numb or tingle (pins and needles). It may be difficult for you to hold, fasten, or manipulate fine objects.  It is also very common to have worsening numbness at night when you are trying to sleep.

Now, if the syndrome becomes too bothersome, too regular, and the situation seems to be getting worse and worse, you need treatment and may even need carpal tunnel surgery. Here’s how you can recognize that the syndrome is serious enough for you to start thinking about treatment, as well as some basic info regarding your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As we’ve already mentioned, the simplest way to recognize carpal tunnel syndrome is to pay attention to the tingling or numbness in your fingers. The most common location for this numbness is in the fingertips (usually the thumb, index, or middle finger - sometimes the ring finger too, and never the pinky). The sensation is also described as a light electric shock or “pins and needles”.

Most commonly, this happens while using your hands to hold something for a prolonged period of time. This is why difficulty holding your phone or holding the wheel of a car may be the first warning sign.

Your hands will also become a lot less reliable than before, which is why dropping an object may become more likely.

The cause is always the pressure on the median nerve, which means that tracking an exact action that led to it may be slightly difficult. Determining this cause is incredibly important, seeing as how, without it, even a successful carpal tunnel surgery may not give you long-lasting results.

Now, it is impossible to go through your day without squeezing things or pressuring your median nerve, so, how come some people develop carpal tunnel syndrome while others do not? While no one can give an exact answer to this question, it is clear that there are several risk factors that contribute to this problem.

  • Anatomic factors such as a wrist dislocation or fracture are a likely cause.
  • Sex/ Gender is another risk factor since women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Chronic illnesses will sometimes damage your median nerve on their own.
  • Workplace factors, like working with tools that vibrate are also known to cause this condition.

People having trouble with one or more of these risk factors are more likely to suffer from this ordeal.

Do I Need a Carpal Tunnel Surgery?

This is a question that only a doctor can give an answer to. Ideally, you would talk to an expert hand doctor, seeing as how a specialist is always more qualified to pass a judgment on these matters. There are also a couple of non-surgical procedures (like bracing or steroid injections) you might want to try out first. Still, if you believe that the situation is getting progressively worse, that the sensation is getting more and more painful, and that no other treatment is helping, this might be the only way.

Still, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are different types of carpal tunnel surgeries. This is yet another reason why you want to get a professional opinion. An endoscopic carpal tunnel release is completely different from an open carpal tunnel release.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Surgery Like? 

The typical surgery for carpal tunnel involves a surgeon making a small incision (about 2-inch) on the wrist. Then, they use surgical instruments in order to cut the carpal ligament - sort of like unbuttoning a tight collar. Then, the skinis stitched up leaving the carpal tunnel released. Sometimes this surgery can also be done awake with only local anesthesia so that there are no anesthetic risks and a quicker recovery

What is the success rate for carpal tunnel surgery?

The success rate of carpal tunnel surgery is over 90%. Misconceptions about this come from the fact that numbness may last for as long as three months (after the successful surgery), which makes some people doubt its effectiveness. The tingling sensation, as well, may last for days and weeks. If treated early, one can make a full recovery. If the condition is not treated, the median nerve may develop irreversible nerve damage and will not improve even after surgery. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell who will make a full recovery and who will not. Your surgeon can help guide you and of course, it's important to not overdo it after carpal tunnel surgery and allow for optimal rest. 

How long is carpal tunnel surgery?

Generally speaking, this is a short procedure, which is why the surgery rarely takes more than 15 minutes. However, with the preparation, setting up anesthesia (if needed) and everything else that follows, it’s not uncommon for a patient to spend as much as 45 minutes in the operating room.

What is the recovery from carpal tunnel release like?

After the procedure, you can expect some pain, swelling, and stiffness. Pain while recovering from hand surgery is inevitable. Luckily, you might get some medicine from your doctor. Advil and Tylenol, when used together, have been shown to be more effective than narcotics for controlling pain after a carpal tunnel release. As mentioned, the soreness may last anywhere from weeks to months after the surgery. The bandage itself will stay on for up to two weeks. When thinking about time off work, in most cases, light activities are permissible: typing, eating, reading, and grooming. It may take well over 6 weeks to tackle some home renovations, however.

What is carpal tunnel surgery recovery time?

The standard recovery time after carpal tunnel surgery is anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. However, it might take a full year for your hands to completely recover, get back full sensation, and to regain your strength. With some post-surgery stretches, you may be able to slightly facilitate the healing process.

Wrap Up

Carpal tunnel surgery is a mostly safe and effective solution to a huge quality of life problem that you have. While you may listen to a doctor’s advice on the subject matter, in the end, the decision is always your own. Being informed should always be your top priority when making a decision, so find a specialist that you can trust and listen carefully to what they have to say. 

If you’re in the tri-state area, come visit one of our hand and wrist surgeons at The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.