How long does it take to heal from carpal tunnel release?

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) results when pressure increases within the carpal canal in the wrist. The increased pressure is transmitted to the median nerve which lies in the canal. The median nerve transmits sensation from the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. It is also responsible for controlling several muscles located in the base of the thumb.

Conservative treatments such as positioning splints and steroid injections are usually the first line of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. However, when they do not work, surgery is typically recommended. CTS surgery releases the carpal tendon, relieving the pressure within the canal. There are two main types of surgery to treat CTS.

The Surgeries to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Open release surgery is the more traditional procedure used to release the carpal canal. This approach consists of making an approximately 2 inch incision on the base of the hand and releasing the carpal ligament to enlarge the carpal tunnel and relieve the pressure.

Endoscopic release surgery is a technique which has been developed more recently. Instead of the 2 inch incision used in the open approach, the endoscopic approach utilizes one or two small incisions (about ½ inch each) in the wrist and palm. A tube with a camera inside is then inserted. The camera projects the view of the carpal tunnel on a monitor, allowing the surgeon to view the anatomy of the area under magnification. The transverse carpal ligament is then released using specialized instruments that fit through the ½ inch incisions. The endoscopic technique may take longer to complete, and it may be associated with a higher risk of complications and the possible need for additional procedures in the future.

Recovery After the Surgery

After the surgery your wrist will likely be wrapped in a bandage and/or a splint for 7-14 days.

Your wrist will likely be in a heavy bandage or a splint for 1 to 2 weeks. Doctors usually schedule another appointment to remove the bandage or splint. During this first 1-2 weeks, you might be asked to move your fingers occasionally in order to help prevent stiffening.

A physical therapy program is typically initiated once the splint is removed. Physical therapy will consist of exercises to improve the function and movement of your wrist and hand. Eventually the physical therapy will begin to increase the strength in your hand and speed up the healing process.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the recovery period can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. During recovery, you may need to adjust job duties or even take time off from work while you heal.

Contributing Factors to Healing Time

The factors that may affect the length of the healing period are the age of the patient, the amount and quality of PT, and the type of procedure – open or endoscopic. The endoscopic procedure may allow for a faster recovery, but this is not guaranteed. Those who are younger and those who are more active with Physical therapy may also heal faster (once again, not always the case). Remember, everyone heals differently. Follow your doctor’s orders, and don’t rush back to full activity before you are cleared to do so.

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