What to expect after Carpal Tunnel surgery

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Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve becomes compressed in the narrow wrist passage, called the carpal tunnel. As a result, you may feel a tingling, numbness, or pain in your hand, thumb, fingers, or arm.

If non-surgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome have been unsuccessful, surgery may be recommended.

Although this type of surgery is one of the most common hand surgeries, it’s important to know what to expect after carpal tunnel surgery so you can be fully prepared.


What is carpal tunnel surgery?

Carpal tunnel release surgery, also known as carpal tunnel decompression, is performed to help relieve pressure on the median nerve and reduce pain. The procedure can be carried out through keyhole or open surgery.

With open surgery, an incision about 5cm long is made in the front of the wrist near your palm. The surgeon then cuts the carpal ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve.

With keyhole surgery, a smaller incision, approximately 2cm in length, is made in the forearm just above the wrist. The surgeon passes a thin, flexible telescope, called an endoscope, through the incision, and cuts the carpal ligament to relieve pressure.

Carpal tunnel surgery is usually carried out under local anaesthesia and takes approximately 20 minutes.


What to expect after carpal tunnel surgery

Carpal tunnel surgery is usually an outpatient procedure, which means you should be able to go home the same day as your operation.

You will need to organise transport home after your procedure as you will not be able to drive.

Your surgeon may advise you to wear a splint at the start of your recovery from carpal tunnel surgery to help keep your wrist in a straight position and reduce pressure on the nerves.


How painful is it after carpal tunnel surgery?

It’s normal to experience mild discomfort, tenderness, and swelling once the local anaesthesia wears off. However, this should ease within a few days.

Your surgeon will be able to recommend the appropriate pain-relieving medication.


What can you not do after carpal tunnel surgery?

Your surgeon will be able to advise you on the timings of what you can and cannot do following the procedure, as recovery from carpal tunnel surgery will be different for everyone

However, you will initially need to avoid any heavy lifting or repetitive hand, wrist, or arm movements, so you may need some help preparing food and undertaking household tasks.

You will not be allowed to resume driving until you can grip and control the steering wheel and perform an emergency stop.

How soon you can return to work will depend on the type of occupation you have. For example, those with manual jobs such as assembly line work, or jobs that involve typing, may need to take longer off work than others.


How soon can you use your hand after carpal tunnel surgery?

At the start of your carpal tunnel surgery recovery, you may need to wear a splint to help keep the wrist in place and aid healing. However, when it is safe to do so, your surgeon will advise you to begin using your hand for lighter tasks, such as holding a glass.

As part of your carpal tunnel surgery aftercare, you may be given a rehabilitation plan by a physiotherapist to help you gradually strengthen your wrist, restore your grip, and regain full movement.


What are the risks of carpal tunnel surgery?

As carpal tunnel surgery is one of the most common hand surgeries, most people will experience no complications following the procedure. However, as with all surgeries, there is a minimal risk of infection, scarring, and nerve or blood vessel damage.

Other complications related to carpal tunnel surgery include loss of grip strength, hand dexterity, and palmar cutaneous neuroma, which is a benign post-surgery growth on your median nerve.

Pillar pain is also a potential complication of carpal tunnel surgery and relates to an ache or tenderness in the base of the thumb and little finger. However, this is usually temporary and resolves within months.


How long does it take to recover from carpal tunnel surgery?

With carpal tunnel surgery, recovery time can vary from person to person.

However, most people make a full recovery from carpal tunnel surgery within six to twelve weeks.


Carpal tunnel surgery with Ramsay Health Care

At Ramsay Health Care, we work with experienced orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists who are experts in their field to ensure you are fully supported before, during and after your carpal tunnel surgery.

Find out more about carpal tunnel surgery with Ramsay here.


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