Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects the median nerve, which runs the length of your arm and then through an opening in the wrist called the carpal tunnel to provide control and movement in your hand. When the tunnel becomes narrowed, either by injury or inflammation, the nerve is impinged. This can result in tingling, numbness, burning or weakness in the hand.
Experts used to think that carpal tunnel syndrome was caused primarily by overuse or repetitive motion. Now they believe that there is likely a genetic disposition for smaller carpal tunnels that make a person more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition can also be caused by injuries like sprains or fractures and has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, pregnancy, and diabetes.
In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome can be effectively treated with lifestyle changes (avoiding repetitive use, for example), temporary immobilization with a splint or medication such as anti-inflammatory drugs. However, if the condition becomes severe, surgery may be necessary.
In what is called carpal tunnel release surgery, an incision is made on the wrist and the surgeon uses tools to widen the carpal tunnel, releasing compression on the nerve. While the surgery is very effective, it does produce pain, swelling, and stiffness, and recovering from it takes time.
What to Expect After Carpal Tunnel Surgery
If you are preparing for a carpal tunnel release procedure, here’s how you can generally expect your recovery to progress:
- 1 week after surgery — Your doctor will remove your bandage and stitches. You will likely be referred for physical therapy to help restore your range of motion and to minimize stiffness. You will still have a number of restrictions on how you can use your hand and wrist.
- 2-4 weeks after surgery — During this time you will be allowed to start gradually resuming use of the affected hand. You may be able to return to work if your job doesn’t require heavy lifting. Your pain should be slowly decreasing. Keeping your scar moistened with lotion will help minimize discomfort.
- 4-5 weeks after surgery — You will likely have regained full use of your fingers around this time or will be working with a physical therapist to do so.
- 6-8 weeks after surgery — You should be back to full activity, but you may still have some soreness in your palm if something presses into it deeply. You may continue to have slight numbness in your fingers.
- 1 year after surgery — All the benefits of your surgery will have been realized by this time. Depending on how much nerve damage or muscle atrophy occurred before your surgery, you may still have limitations in the function or strength of your hand.
It is possible for carpal tunnel syndrome to return after surgery. However, recurrences are unusual.
Getting a Prompt Assessment is Important
If you have pain, tingling or numbness in your hand from an unknown cause, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Prompt treatment can help keep the condition from worsening. If carpal tunnel release surgery is required, the sooner you have the procedure the lower the risk of permanent damage to nerves or muscles.
Read more about carpal tunnel release surgery at Baptist Health here.