So you are considering carpal tunnel surgery. Although every individual's experience may vary slightly, this guide will give you a general understanding of what lies ahead.
During carpal tunnel surgery, also called carpal tunnel decompression surgery, the surgeon cuts the transverse carpal ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve. This is a relatively quick procedure which is usually performed as day surgery. You will be sent home with a bulky bandage on your wrist. No splint is required following the surgery. Your fingers may continue to feel numb for 24 hours or so after the surgery, until the anaesthetic wears off.
A certain amount of swelling is to be expected after the surgery, so don’t worry if your fingers appear puffy. You can help to reduce swelling by keeping your hand elevated higher than your heart, especially when sitting and walking about. It is common to also have some bruising in the palm or wrist.
What is the scar like following carpal tunnel surgery?
If your surgery is performed through an open procedure you will have a small incision around 2cm long near the base of your palm. You will likely have about 4 stitches which your hand therapist will remove, usually between 10 and 14 days after the operation.
If your procedure is performed endoscopically, you will usually have two very tiny incisions, supported by steristrips. Endoscopic carpal tunnel releases do not require removal of stitches as the stitches will dissolve.
How sore will I be following carpal tunnel surgery?
You are likely to experience some discomfort or pain around the surgical site. This can be managed with medication prescribed by your surgeon. You can expect the carpal tunnel area to be tender for at least 4 weeks after the surgery while the transverse carpal ligament is healing. Your hand therapist will show you ways to reduce the tenderness of the scar.
Do I need therapy following carpal tunnel surgery?
Seeing a hand therapist will help you to recover as quickly as possible and help to prevent any problems developing such as joint stiffness or scar sensitivity. You will usually begin hand therapy 1-3 days after surgery. Your hand therapist will remove the bulky dressing and replace it with a lighter dressing. You will need to keep the wound/s dry for the first 2 weeks.
Your hand therapist will monitor your wounds, change the dressings as necessary and remove the stitches where required. Your hand therapist will also apply compression to your hand to help reduce the swelling.
Your hand therapist will give you exercises to ensure that you recover full movement of your fingers, thumb and wrist as soon as possible, as well as exercises to regain strength in your hand.
How soon can I use my hand after carpal tunnel surgery?
Following carpal tunnel surgery, you can use your hand for light activities straight away within the limits of your pain. Doing too much with your hand may make it sore, but will not cause long lasting damage. It is recommended to avoid very strong gripping and heavy lifting for approximately 4 weeks after surgery.
How long will it take for the pins and needles/numbness to go away after carpal tunnel surgery?
For some people, their carpal tunnel symptoms are gone almost immediately after the surgery, but for others the pins and needles or numbness can persist for a while after the surgery.
How long it takes for the pins and needles to go away depends on how severely compressed the nerve was and how long it was compressed. In general, the longer the nerve was compressed and the more severe your symptoms, the longer it will take for the nerve to fully recover after the pressure has been removed.
How soon can I drive after carpal tunnel surgery?
You should not drive for at least 24 hours after surgery. It is generally recommended that you limit driving for the first week following carpal tunnel surgery, as your wrist will be sore, however you may drive once your hand feels comfortable.