The carpal tunnel is a small passage between your arm and your hand formed by the bones and ligaments of the wrist. The median nerve, which provides sensation to the hand and fingers, and the tendons that control the movements of the fingers, pass through the carpal tunnel.
With repeated overuse, or following an injury, the soft tissue components of the wrist joint might swell, causing the carpal tunnel to become so narrow that it puts pressure on the median nerve and other structures that pass through the canal. This can be painful and it might cause your hand to feel tingly, or even become numb and weak.
During carpal tunnel surgery, the ligament that forms the roof of the tunnel is cut. This relieves the pressure within the carpal tunnel and gives the nerves, vessels and tendons more space to pass through.
After recovery, patients report reduced pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected hand and wrist.
How Can I Prepare For Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Your doctor will ensure that you have an understanding of the procedure before the surgery. They will ask you about your medical history, current medications, and any health concerns you have.
Your doctor will give you specific instructions before the big day – like fasting and stopping certain medications that might cause complications during surgery.
In addition to listening to your doctor, you can plan for recovery.
Planning For Recovery
After the surgery, you'll need to kick back and recover for a few days. Make sure you set up your living space so that it is optimal for rest and recovery. Put any necessary supplies in a place that is easy to reach and use, and maybe ask a friend or family member to lend a hand if you need it.
Getting To The Hospital
Getting someone else to drive you to the hospital would be a good idea. Your hands might be painful after surgery and the anesthesia can affect your driving skills. Also, having moral support before and after surgery can put you more at ease.
Time Off Work And Mental Health
You might need some time off work to heal up properly. Talk to your colleagues in advance, and find out about the benefits offered by your workplace in terms of sick leave.
Surgery can be stressful, so don't ignore your mental health! If you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, have a heart-to-heart with your doctor or a mental health professional. They're there to help you through it all.
What Happens During Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Carpal tunnel surgery is typically performed under local anaesthesia, which means you will be awake but your hand and arm will be numb during the procedure.
There are two types of carpal tunnel surgery: open-release and endoscopic release.
- Open-release surgery: During open-release surgery, the surgeon will make a small incision in the palm to access the carpal tunnel and cut the ligament.
- Endoscopic release surgery: An even smaller incision is made in the palm during endoscopic release surgery. The surgeon uses an endoscope (a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached) to view and cut the ligament.
For both types of carpal tunnel surgery, the surgeon will cut the transverse carpal ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve. The surgeon will then close the incision with stitches or surgical staples and cover it with a bandage or dressing.
The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete and is done on an outpatient basis, which means you can go home the same day.
What Are The Risks Of Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
As with any surgery, there are risks involved. Blood vessels or nerves can be damaged during the surgery, leading to bleeding or nerve damage. Some people are allergic to anaesthesia, or they need a higher dose than anticipated.
Infection is a big risk, any time your skin is damaged. The incision might become infected, which could damage underlying tissues and delay healing.
Please let your doctor know immediately if you have a fever or if there is swelling, or redness around the incision site - these symptoms can indicate infection.
What Happens After Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
It's normal to feel some pain and discomfort after the surgery, but don't worry, your doctor will prescribe medication to help manage it.
Your hand and wrist will be bandaged and secured with a splint to protect the incision and support the healing process. You might need to wear the splint or a brace for a few weeks to keep the wrist stable and prevent injury.
You will have a few follow-up appointments with your doctor so that they can keep an eye on the healing process.
Your doctor or physical therapist may also suggest exercises or physical therapy to get your hand and wrist back in shape.
Getting Back To Work
How soon you can get back to work depends on the type of work you do. If your job entails heavy lifting, you will need to give yourself more time to heal. If your job does not involve using your hands and wrist a lot, you might be back within days or weeks.
Recovery Takes Patience
Carpal tunnel surgery brings relief for most people with carpal tunnel issues, but remember – it's a process. The transverse carpal ligament takes a while to knit back together, but once it's healed, there's more space in the tunnel, keeping carpal tunnel syndrome at bay for longer.