If you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome or suspect that you might be suffering from it, it’s important to recognize what options you have for treatment and surgery. Perhaps you’re also wondering how long is recovery from carpal tunnel surgery? And how long will it be before you can resume normal activities?
Experiencing pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers and hand can be a burden on your daily life. This is especially if you need to use your hands for work, or you have to do repetitive motions that can cause you further pain.
Perhaps over-the-counter pain medication or a wrist brace hasn’t improved your condition, and your doctor has recommended that you receive surgery. What are those next steps? This article will give you the answers to all you need to know about carpal tunnel surgery and recovery. Read on to find out more.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by building pressure on your median nerve. The median nerve is responsible for all the feelings in your fingers, apart from your pinky finger.
The carpal tunnel, which is formed by the wrist bones and the transverse carpal ligament, can swell when the tissues are damaged inside, causing pressure on the median nerve. This pressure then sends pain signals to the hand which causes numbness, tingling, pain, and loss of function if not properly treated.
It’s a condition that worsens over time, usually starting with milder symptoms at first. Typically, but not in every case, the most sensitive area is towards the thumb section of the hand.
Doctors and specialists used to believe that carpal tunnel syndrome was linked only to work-related injuries, overuse, or repetitive motion injuries. For example, typing, gardening, or playing a musical instrument.
This may be the case for some sufferers, however, research has shown that it can run in families (congenital predisposition) where some people have smaller carpal tunnels than others, and therefore are more susceptible.
Carpal tunnel can also be brought on by strains or breaks in the wrist, as well as it is linked to diabetes, thyroid disease, and pregnancy.
When Should You Opt For Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Several indications suggest that it might be time for you to receive carpal tunnel surgery. These include:
- If you’ve exhausted all the non-surgical options for carpal tunnel available
- It’s been longer than 6 months with no improvement
- It’s significantly affecting your quality of life
- You can’t perform tasks with your hands that you previously could
- Your doctor performs an electromyography test and diagnoses you with carpal tunnel syndrome
- The muscles and strength of your hand or wrist is getting noticeably weaker
If you’ve experienced any of these indications, or multiple examples of them, you should consider opting for carpal tunnel surgery.
As with any medical procedure, it’s worth talking this through with your doctor before making your final decision.
What Are My Options For Surgery?
When it comes to carpal tunnel release surgery two options are available to patients. These are either the open carpal tunnel release or the endoscopic carpal tunnel release.
When you have your appointment with your doctor they will be able to talk you through the various methods and recommend the best course of action and method for your surgery.
Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release
Endoscopic carpal tunnel release involves a thin tube with a camera attached called an endoscope. The endoscope is guided into the wrist through a tiny incision in the palm. This can also be performed under local or general anesthetic.
It allows the doctor to see inside the parts of the wrist, including the traverse carpal ligament without having to make a larger incision.
The cutting tools are very small and are also attached to the endoscope, meaning minimal disturbance to the wrist area. The small incision in the palm will means that you won’t even need stitches.
At Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas, Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release is our preferred method of surgery, if you are a candidate.
If you have endoscopic carpal tunnel release you will likely be able to have the surgery and be discharged to go home on the same day.
Open Carpal Tunnel Release
This method involves an incision to the wrist that can be performed under local or general anesthetic.
The incision is around 2 inches from your wrist to your palm and is used to cut the transverse carpal ligament creating more space in the carpal tunnel. This, in turn, relieves the pressure on the median nerve.
The incision is then stitched back up, your wrists and hand are placed in bandages and potentially a splint. You should be prepared that it can cause a considerable amount of scarring, as well as a longer recovery time in comparison to the endoscopic method.
Unless there are any unforeseen complications you should be able to be discharged from the hospital the same day you have surgery.
How To Prepare for Carpal Tunnel Surgery
When thinking about preparing yourself for carpal tunnel surgery there are a few things you can bear in mind or change before you have it. These include:
Maintaining a healthy diet and losing any additional weight. This to minimize any risks associated with general anesthesia.
Cutting down or giving up smoking if you are a smoker. This is because smoking can delay the healing process.
Inform your doctor of all your medical history, including any medication, supplements, herbal remedies you are taking. Some medications can make it harder for the blood to clot which can be difficult to operate on. If your doctor knows everything beforehand, it can avoid any surprise issues arising later.
Arrange transport to and from the hospital. This will be a weight off your mind on the day itself. However, you should note that some minor endoscopic carpal tunnel surgeries allow some patients to drive themselves home.
Usually, before surgery, you’re asked not to eat again for up to 12 hours before.
You may need a physical examination, an ECG (electrocardiogram), and blood tests before your surgery.
Inform your employer if required and check with your doctor if you will need any time off work to recover. If you ask you’ll usually be provided with a doctor’s note to help evidence this to your employer.
Ask a family member or loved one if they can help out with general chores, cooking, and cleaning for your recovery period.
What To Expect After You Have Surgery
After your surgery, you can expect your hand to be bandaged or in a splint for one to two weeks. If you have a splint you will need to go back to the doctors to get it removed. Your stitches will also need to be taken out at the same time.
This will also be a good chance for your doctor to have a look at the recovery process. After that then you will be able to start physical therapy on your wrist and hand.
It might be that you experience an immediate release in pressure and improvement in the hand or wrist from the first day. However, this might be something that takes a period of months to fully heal. Try to avoid any heavy lifting or exertion for at least a couple of weeks to allow the healing process to work.
It’s completely normal to feel pain and a general sense of discomfort around the site of your surgery for a few weeks after. This can be managed through oral pain medication that your doctor can prescribe you or over-the-counter ones. You can also keep your affected hand elevated at night to help with the pain and swelling.
With any surgery, there are always risks involved. Educate yourself on these so that you’re fully aware of all the facts before having carpal tunnel surgery. Some of these risks are:
- Bleeding at the site of the surgery
- Infection around the incision, in the wrist, or stitches
- Injuries to the surrounding blood vessels
- A painful or sensitive scar
- Injury to the median nerve or the nerves that are connected to it
How Long Is Recovery from Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Everyone will have a slightly different recovery time for carpal tunnel surgery. One thing to consider is whether you had open release tunnel or endoscopic tunnel surgery. Usually, people will recover quicker and be able to return to work from endoscopic surgery as it is much less invasive.
Another factor is whether you had surgery on your dominant hand and whether your job role includes repetitive motions at work. This may mean you can return to your job in 6-8 weeks. However, if your surgery was on your non-dominant hand or your job doesn’t involve repetitive motions, you may be able to return in 7-14 days.
Getting back to normality is a slow process of gradually increasing your range of motion in your hand and wrist, without causing it too much strain. The guidelines are you should be able to drive a couple of days after your surgery.
For writing it should be around a week, however, don’t overexert yourself. It will take 6-8 weeks to get back to normal.
For gripping, pulling, and pinching motions, this will take 6-8 weeks, although will take 10-12 weeks for your normal strength to return. In some cases, it can take up to a year. You will need to consult your doctor on your progress and recovery plan.
How to Recover from Carpal Tunnel Surgery at Home
The advantage of Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas’, Endoscopic Carpal tunnel release is post op recovery. The post operative recovery is very predictable after performing our “No Stitch” endoscopic carpal tunnel release. Immediately after the surgery, you can write type, and feed yourself with the operated hand. You can do light duties at work as well the next day, such as sitting at a desk, typing, etc. More physically demanding jobs that require lifting, climbing, pulling, to name a few will take longer. On your first post operative visit, the dressings are usually removed, and you can do unrestricted activities. That means, you really cannot hurt the surgery that was performed, but you may not be at your full strength just yet, and thus may not be able to do everything at your job after one week. There is post operative inflammation in the palm which can last from 6 weeks to 3 months, but it usually resolves around 3 months. Again, it is very tolerable. Most patients do home therapy on their own, but some may need occupational / physical therapy, and it is usually determined post op by our physicians.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery: Your Questions Answered
When it comes to receiving carpal tunnel surgery, it’s important to be prepared with all the facts and information that it entails. Asking the right questions such as: ‘How long is recovery from carpal tunnel surgery?’ will enable you to decide whether carpal tunnel surgery is the right option for you.
If you would like to arrange an appointment, confirm a diagnosis or seek advice, why not contact us to find out more? We have a team of dedicated specialists who can guide you through the process, from consulting, surgery, and, finally, recovery.