Physical therapy and other nonsurgical treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome aren’t always enough to cure the pain associated with this condition. For individuals with symptoms of moderate to severe carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors may recommend surgery.
Carpal tunnel surgery reduces pressure on the median nerve, alleviating pain and numbness. But deciding to undergo any surgical procedure is a big decision, and you’ll need to know as much information as possible before moving forward.
If you’re considering treating carpal tunnel syndrome with surgery, here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the surgery and what you can expect on the road to recovery. Consult your physician before making any decisions regarding your health.
Should I Get Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve is compressed.
The median nerve travels through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway located on the palm side of the hand. The nerve sits between bone and ligaments and can become compressed by these structures. This compaction can lead to symptoms that range from uncomfortable to debilitating.
Individuals suffering from mild symptoms caused by carpal tunnel syndrome may experience relief by wearing a wrist splint or using anti-inflammatory medications. However, sometimes, the pain, numbness, and tingling do not improve on their own.
If left untreated, carpal tunnel syndrome can cause severe issues with hand movement, so it’s important to discuss treatment options with a doctor if you have this medical condition. To determine if you need carpal tunnel surgery, your doctor may perform a nerve conduction study to analyze how quickly nerves in your hand communicate to appendages.
Surgery involves releasing the transverse carpal ligament to decompress the median nerve. A surgeon can incise the ligament through open surgery or by using a less invasive endoscopic procedure.
What Are the Differences Between Endoscopic and Open Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Both types of surgery involve cutting the transverse carpal ligament to relieve pressure on the median nerve, and both have been shown to provide successful long-term results. However, endoscopic surgery may allow patients to recover faster1.
With an open carpal tunnel release procedure, your surgeon will numb the wrist before making an incision in the palm to open up the carpal tunnel.
With endoscopic surgery, a surgeon makes a small incision — less than one inch wide — in the wrist. Then, they insert a tiny camera into the carpal tunnel so they can make a precise cut to divide the ligament and relieve the median nerve pressure.
Studies show that patients undergoing endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery return to work sooner, experience less pain, and have better grip strength and hand dexterity than open surgery 2.
What Are the Benefits of the Endoscopic Method Compared to the Open Method?
Open and endoscopic surgery have similar long term outcomes, but patients who undergo the endoscopic procedure typically experience shorter recovery time and less postoperative pain3.
Using the SmartRelease® procedure, your surgeon will make a 0.5 to 0.75-inch incision and can complete the entire procedure within minutes. The small incision size allows patients to recover quickly, with some experiencing immediate symptom relief.
With the high-definition view provided by the endoscope, the surgeon has advanced visibility during the surgery. Overall, these benefits lead to higher patient satisfaction scores for patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome4.
Is Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery Painful?
During carpal tunnel surgery, your surgeon will apply anesthesia to minimize pain and discomfort. You might experience some pain in the hand and wrist after the surgery, but your doctor can recommend pain medication to help with any soreness and swelling.
Because the incision is so small during the endoscopic procedure, you’re likely to notice less post-operative pain, quicker healing, and less scarring than open surgery5.
Are You Awake During a Carpal Tunnel Surgical Procedure?
The type of anesthetic used for a SmartRelease procedure will depend on the operating surgeon. Some surgeons prefer to use a general anesthetic, while others use local anesthesia. Patients undergoing local anesthesia will be able to stay awake during the surgery. Be sure to discuss the type of anesthesia used with your surgeon.
Will Surgery Get Rid of the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Surgery reduces the pressure in the carpal tunnel, which can provide relief for your symptoms. In fact, you may start feeling relief the same day of your procedure6.
You may experience soreness due to the surgery. As you recover post-surgery, numbness, tingling, and wrist pain should dissipate.
What Is the Success Rate for Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Surgery can provide long-term relief from the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. It also can help prevent further problems, such as a weakening of the muscles in the wrist and hand or permanent nerve damage.
Academic literature has shown that carpal tunnel surgery successfully treats symptoms in 75% to 90% of cases. Carpal tunnel release surgery successfully treats symptoms in the majority of cases7. While complications are rare, be sure to discuss your condition and any concerns you may have with your doctor beforehand.
What Is the Typical Recovery Time for Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
Recovery time can vary based on a number of factors. Carpal tunnel surgery is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, so patients will be able to leave with a bandage the same day.
Recovery of full hand strength can take a few days to a few weeks. Since endoscopic surgery has a smaller incision, patients tend to experience faster recovery8 compared to open surgery.
How Does the Recovery Time for the SmartRelease® Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Release Procedure Compare to Open Methods?
The recovery time for endoscopic surgery with the SmartRelease procedure is generally faster than open surgery, so you can go back to doing the things you love (and working) sooner than with traditional methods.
While not everyone will have the same experience, many patients recover quickly after their SmartRelease procedure. Some patients have driven themselves home after the procedure.