How Does Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery and Recovery Work?

carpal tunnel release

From typing on our phones to opening doors we use her hands every day for simple tasks. Imagine going through every day where simple movements cause you sharp pain.

People with carpal tunnel syndrome experience this severe pain throughout every day in the median nerve of their hand. Although home remedies and behavioral changes can reduce the amount of pain for carpal tunnel, the pursuit of relief may require surgery.

Before scheduling surgery to reduce wrist pain, educate yourself on how carpal tunnel release surgery works and how the surgical and recovery period would affect your life.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. Carpal tunnel causes numbness and pain in your fingers and interferes with your ability to effortlessly complete daily tasks.

The carpal tunnel is a passageway of ligaments and bones at the base of the hand that the median nerve runs through. The median nerve controls the feeling in the palm thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring finger. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is pressed or squeezed at the wrist.

Causes of Carpal Tunnel

There is no singular cause for carpal tunnel and that’s why it’s important to consult your doctor on the root cause to see if your case of carpal tunnel may go away naturally.

Carpal tunnel affects 3 to 6% of the adult population. It is the most common nerve damage diagnosis.

Women are three times more likely than men to contract carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a multifactorial diagnosis, so there is no clear reasoning for women being at increased risk.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel can worsen with severe trauma to the rest or an injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome can worsen with swelling of the rest. Swelling can occur from a sprain, overactive pituitary gland, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Carpal tunnel is usually a result of years of intense repetitive activity such as typing, cooking, or gardening. Carpal tunnel can be a result of a combination of factors that put increased pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel can also be a side effect and other medical conditions. During pregnancy or menopause, women can experience an increase in fluid retention or develop a cyst or tumor in the wrist.

Carpal tunnel results from a variety of factors that put increased pressure on the median nerve and tendons in the carpal tunnel. Typically there is no problem with the nerve itself, just a repetitive external pressure placed upon it.

Carpal Tunnel Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with carpal tunnel early is important. If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage. If you are feeling pain in your wrist and fingers or difficulty completing regular activities you need to notify your doctor.

Once you notify your doctor they will examine your wrist for potential swelling and discoloration of the skin or sensation of heat. Your fingers in the base of your hand are also indicators of carpal tunnel development.

If those physical tests are inconclusive your doctor may recommend that you complete diagnostic tests, such as x-rays or ultrasounds, in order to see if the median nerve is irritated or enlarged.

Carpal Tunnel Prevention Tips

Many jobs require repetitive tasks that put your fingers in tireless motion. Jobs that require frequent typing, filing, or lifting can put you at higher risk for developing carpal tunnel.

Even at jobs that require a lot of writs and hand movement, you can adopt strategies to reduce your risk of carpal tunnel. At work you can perform stretching exercises, schedule breaks into your routine, and adjust your desk to build healthier work habits. By rearranging your workspace you can condition yourself to develop better posture and wrist position.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndromes may start off as minimal irritation and grow in intensity over time. One of the first signs of carpal tunnel is a need to shake your hands after a duration of time without using them, such as sleeping. This symptom of numbness can magnify and eventually make completing simple tasks feel labored.

Carpal tunnel symptoms are evident throughout daily activities. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome you may experience an ache or pain in your fingers, hand, or arm.

You may also experience numbness in your hands as your nerve is failing to produce a feeling in regions of your hand and wrist. Individuals suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome will also feel imaginary pins and needles poking different areas in their hands. This is induced by pressure on the median nerve.

Over time it can be difficult to perform daily tasks. An individual with carpal tunnel may experience a lack of control in the thumb. They may experience spasms and weakness while gripping objects.

Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

If your carpal tunnel syndrome is getting worse and home remedies are not working, your doctor may refer you to a specialist to discuss the possibility of surgery.

The surgical procedure for individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome is called a carpal tunnel release or carpal tunnel decompression. This surgery creates more space for the median nerve in the carpal tunnel by relieving pressure created by a ligament in the wrist.

Surgery typically cures all carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Your specialist will help you find the right treatment that works for you to release pressure on your median nerve.

Not all surgeons perform the same procedures for carpal tunnel release.  At Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, our preferred method of carpal tunnel decompression is the Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel release.  The Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel release, as we refer to it, as “The No Stitch” procedure is a minimally invasive carpal tunnel surgery, that requires no stitches to be placed after surgery.   The doctor’s at Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, have safely performed thousands of the No Stitch Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel release.  There are several ways to perform an endoscopic carpal tunnel release, but this method has proven data, with the largest single published paper proving the safety and effectiveness of this procedure, written by one of the members of Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, hand surgeon, Dr. Randolph Lopez.  (For more information on his article, please call our office and we can provide a copy).  The other method of carpal tunnel release, is the older method, which is the open carpal tunnel release.  There are other methods such as an ultrasound guided percutaneous carpal tunnel release and a limited open carpal tunnel release, but these methods are less consistant in results and safety.

Risks of Surgery

Carpal tunnel release surgery does have its risks, like most surgeries.

The primary route of surgical risk comes from the use of anesthesia. Carpal tunnel release surgery can be done with either local or general anesthesia depending on if your specialist believes you should be under for the duration of the procedure.

Additionally, carpal tunnel surgery can result in infection, injury to nearby blood vessels or nerves in the hand, or the creation of a sensitive scar.

Surgical recovery time can vary, especially if you are opting for open surgery, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Because your nerve has been compressed for a long period of time it may take a while for it to return to normal.

Surgery Options

Carpal tunnel release surgery is one of the most common procedures performed in the United States. Surgery involves severing a ligament around the wrist to reduce the pressure place on the median nerve.

There are two primary ways for surgeons to complete this procedure. Surgeons can perform carpal tunnel release surgery by using either an open or endoscopic technique.

Open Technique

In preparation for this procedure, your wrist and hand will be anesthetized. This means that you will lose feeling in this region so you can not feel it as the surgeon operates.

The surgeon will make a two-inch-long incision in your hand running from the center of your palm to your wrist. This exposes the tissue of the transverse carpal ligament. This ligament covered the bones of the hand and forms a cavity called the carpal tunnel.

The surgeon will divide the transverse carpal ligament to create more space. By severing the transverse carpool ligament the median nerve is more freed, as the pressure from the ligament has been released.

Endoscopic Technique

Endoscopic surgery is done using a scope with a camera, and tools for incision and retraction. Endoscopic surgery allows a surgeon to scope around a small incision sight and gain a full access view to the surgical site without making a large incision.

Endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that is done through small incisions in the hand. Surgeons will perform the same techniques to release pressure as they would in an open procedure, however they will be doing it with endoscopic technology.

Through technology, surgeons are able to visualize the median nerve without opening up the hand with a large incision. With the use of visual technology and endoscopic tools, surgeons can relieve the pressure off the median nerve without damaging the surrounding muscle tissue.

During an endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery, the surgeon will cut two 1/2-inch incisions one in your wrist and one in your palm. This will allow the surgeon to guide a camera as they cut the carpal ligament through the other incision.

One of the primary benefits of endoscopic procedures is the reduced recovery time. Because your hand is not been fully opened there is less time needed for the incision to close and swelling to go down. Endoscopic carpal tunnel release surgery only requires 2 to 3 days of dressing changes and rest before a patient can return back to work.

Surgery Recovery

After surgery, it is likely that your hand and wrist will be bandaged and in a split for one to two weeks. Although carpal tunnel release surgery is an outpatient procedure, it does require extensive recovery time not done endoscopically.

While your hand is in the splint you typically have physical therapy appointments to help encourage movement in your fingers and I hope you properly regain motion. For an endoscopic procedure, this period of time is shortened as the incisions take less time to heal.

Best Home Treatment Methods

Before scheduling a medical procedure you can curb, and sometimes heal, your carpal tunnel through simple at-home remedies. Home treatments should also be used if your cause of carpal tunnel is temporary, such as a side effect of pregnancy.

Because of the potential for long-term nerve damage, it’s important to treat the condition rather than just symptoms of carpal tunnel. If your pain does not go away after trying different home remedies you need to consider the option of surgery.

Minimize Agitating Behaviors

Carpal tunnel symptoms can be due to long-term nerve damage from years of unhealthy habits. By minimizing your unhealthy behaviors, you can reduce pain to a more tolerable level.

More underlying pain can arise amongst individuals with a carpal tunnel through activities that overextend the wrist. Repetitive movement can cause additional tension on the wrist’s median nerve.

Make an active effort to cut down on behaviors that require wrist bending, hard gripping, and quick finger movements. Simple behaviors such as cracking your knuckles or working on a poorly placed keyboard.

Wear Wrist Splints

Wrist splints are a simple tool that provides immediate relief of pressure in the nerves in your hand. A wrist splint can be used to help keep your wrist straight. They can help your hand to develop a healthy resting position.

Wrist splints can easily get in the way of daily activities, so you can wear your wrist split at night to provide relief.

Use Hand Exercises

The best exercises for reducing nerve pain among people with carpal tunnel, work to increase flexibility in your hands. Here are some basic exercises for individuals with carpal tunnel.

  • Shaking your hands out
  • Touching each finger to your thumb
  • Clenching a fist and fanning your fingers

Mild or moderate carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms can be alleviated through the use of simple exercises. You need to keep in mind that unlike working out pain is bad when performing hand exercises. Pushing through the pain in relief exercises can be dangerous.

Treat Your Carpal Tunnel

It is important to seek treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be debilitating to your daily routine and lower your ability to complete daily tasks with ease. By seeking medical advice, you can isolate the cause of your pain and determine if your carpal tunnel is a long-term or short-term condition.

Take the next step to achieve long-term pain relief by scheduling a consultation to see if carpal tunnel release surgery is right for you.

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