Key Points about Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

  • Carpal tunnel release surgery is an orthopedic procedure that relieves the pressure on the median nerve in the wrist.
  • People who have not found relief with nonsurgical therapies, or those who are not able to perform their daily activities due to severe sensation loss in the hands may be candidates for carpal tunnel release surgery.
  • Follow your doctor’s specific pre-surgery instructions to ensure you have a successful surgery and recovery.
  • Your orthopedic surgeon will determine if you are a candidate for open or endoscopic surgery.
  • Recovery from carpal tunnel syndrome can take as long as several months, depending upon how long the nerve has been compressed.
  • During recovery, your wrist will need to be splinted, and you will need to undergo physical therapy to strengthen the hand and wrist.

Overview

Carpal tunnel syndrome is an orthopedic condition that may develop when excess pressure is placed on the median nerve. Patients who are not finding relief with nonsurgical treatments may need carpal tunnel release surgery to find relief.

The carpal tunnel is a passageway on the inside of the hands (palm side). If the median nerve becomes compressed, you can experience numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand or arm. People who repeatedly use the same hand motions, such as typing, are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel release surgery candidates

Your doctor may recommend carpal tunnel release surgery in the following cases:

  • Nonsurgical therapies are not effective after several weeks or months of nonsurgical treatments. If you have nerve damage, surgery is urgent.
  • Your daily activities are being restricted because of severe loss of sensation and coordination in the fingers.
  • Your median nerve is damaged, or you are at risk of experiencing nerve damage.
  • You have tumors or other growths in the affected area that need to be removed.

Carpal tunnel release surgery risks

While carpal tunnel release surgery is generally safe, complications can occur including:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to median nerve or nerves or vessels around it
  • Scarring

Carpal tunnel release surgery preparation

In preparation for surgery, your doctor may ask you to:

  • Inform your care team about any medications, including OTC medications, as well as herbal supplements you are taking.
  • Stop taking certain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Do not eat or drink after midnight before the procedure.
  • Coordinate to have a driver to take you home after surgery.

Carpal tunnel release surgery expectations

Carpal tunnel release surgery can be performed via open release surgery or endoscopically. 

During open release carpal tunnel release surgery, your surgeon will cut your wrist open to perform the surgery.

During endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the wrist through an incision. The camera at the end of the instrument guides the doctor as he or she cuts the carpal ligament with small surgical instruments that have been guided into the wrist through the small incisions.

Pain or numbness may persist for several months after surgery, avoid heavy use of your hand for three months or more.

Carpal tunnel release surgery duration

Carpal tunnel release surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, so you will likely be able to go home on the day of surgery.

If you have a job where you perform repeated actions at work, you can return to work within six to eight weeks. If you do not have a job where you perform repeated actions, you can return to work within seven to 14 days.