If your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms aren't helped with medications or by wearing a brace, your doctor might recommend carpal tunnel surgery. Your doctor might also recommend surgery when your condition causes muscle loss or loss of function in your hand. The surgery is known as a carpal tunnel release procedure. Here's how it can help and the two ways it can be done.
How Surgery Can Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your wrist has a small tunnel where a nerve and tendons pass from your arm through your wrist to your hand. The tunnel is made up of bones on three sides and a ligament on the other. The tunnel can't expand, so when swelling occurs in a tendon or other tissue that crowds the space, pressure is put on the nerve. This is what causes tingling, weakness, and pain. During carpal tunnel surgery, the doctor cuts the ligament that forms the tunnel so the tunnel can open up and relieve pressure on the nerve.
How Carpal Tunnel Release Is Done
This is usually an outpatient procedure that you can have done with a local anesthetic. Your carpal tunnel doctor has two ways to cut the ligament. One is an open surgery that involves making an incision in your hand to open up the area. The ligament is visualized and cut. Then, the incision is stitched closed. The other method is an endoscopic version that requires two incisions that are much smaller than the one used for the open surgery. A tiny camera is passed through one of the incisions so the doctor can view the inside of your wrist on a monitor. Surgical tools are inserted in the other incision to cut the ligament. The surgeries perform the same function in different ways.
Your doctor chooses the right type of surgery for your condition. You might recover more quickly from the endoscopic surgery, and that could be an important consideration for getting back to work sooner. However, there are different factors that affect how quickly you'll recover from your surgery and how quickly you can go back to work. For instance, if your surgery is on your dominant hand and you need to use the hand for typing at work all day, you'll have to take more time off than if your surgery is on your other hand or if you don't need to engage in repetitive movements or do heavy lifting.
No matter which surgery you have, it will probably be several months before your hand is healed completely. You may also need to have physical therapy, especially if your carpal tunnel caused muscle loss. It will take time to get your hand strength back, and you'll be limited in the activities you can do until your hand has healed from the surgery.