What Is Carpal Tunnel Release?

If you have been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, and non-invasive treatments like anti-inflammatory medicines, splints, and occupational therapy aren’t working to relieve the pain, your doctor may recommend a carpal tunnel release procedure. This is an outpatient surgery that releases pressure on the carpal tunnel.

The median nerve that goes through your wrist traverses a space called the carpal tunnel. When this space becomes compressed (often through extended periods of repetitive motion), the nerve becomes pinched, causing pain, tingling or numbness in the wrist and fingers. This can often be treated through improved posture, using ergonomic devices while working, protective splints and certain exercises. When the problem is more severe and these techniques aren’t bringing relief, carpal tunnel release surgery may be the next best option.

What happens during carpal tunnel release?

In most cases, carpal tunnel release is an outpatient procedure, and you will stay awake during surgery (although you may be given medication to relax). A local anesthetic will be administered to numb the area. The surgeon will make one or more small incisions in your wrist and palm area, then cut the transverse carpal ligament to create more space for the tendons and the median nerve. In some cases, the surgeon may be able to create two tiny incisions instead of one larger one, inserting a tiny camera through one incision to help him see to cut the ligament.

Preparing for surgery

Prior to the procedure, your physician may advise you to stop taking any medicines that thin the blood or inhibit clotting, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. If you smoke, you should try to refrain before, during and after the procedure, as this will improve recovery time. You will likely be asked not to eat or drink 6-12 hours before the surgery.

After surgery

When the procedure is complete, your wrist will be kept in a splint or heavy bandaging for about a week. When these are removed, the next step will be physical therapy to recover full use of your hand and wrist. Full recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on how severe the problem was and how long you had carpal tunnel syndrome before the surgery. Infection is the most common risk for this type of surgery, so let your doctor know if you experience pain, swelling, redness or fever.