Candidates who continue to suffer from carpal tunnel symptoms even after a long period of nonsurgical treatment should consider carpal tunnel surgery. In general, surgery is not considered until after 3 to 12 months of nonsurgical treatment. However, signs of nerve damage (evidenced by loss of hand or finger function) would necessitate the surgery.
Candidates whose symptoms can be relieved by nonsurgical treatment such as better ergonomic techniques and physical therapy should not consider carpal tunnel surgery their first option for treatment.
Like other surgeries, carpal tunnel surgery requires a complete physical examination by your primary care provider and/or orthopedic surgeon before surgery. You should inform your orthopedic surgeon of any medications or supplements you take, and comply with certain general surgery procedures such as preoperative blood testing and possible cessation of smoking or use of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs one week prior. You may need to stop taking blood thinner medication (e.g. Warfarin). You will likely be asked to stop eating or drinking the night before the surgery if general anesthesia is needed.
Carpal tunnel surgery is done on an outpatient basis. Immediately after your procedure, your doctor will prescribe medication for pain relief. In the first few days after surgery, keep your arm elevated and apply ice to relieve swelling and prevent further inflammation. Ensure your dressings are kept clean and dry. Stitches should come out between the first and second week.
You can expect to return to normal activities in about 2 weeks. Recovery will vary depending on factors such as your individual job and the initial severity of your condition. After 6 weeks, there should be no restrictions on your hand motions.
As with any surgery, there are risks of complications related to infection or adverse reactions to anesthesia. Other known complications include nerve damage and wrist and hand pain, though these occur in less than 1% of procedures performed.