Carpal Tunnel Surgery and Recovery
Adelaide Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr James McLean performs carpal tunnel release through endoscope (key-hole) surgery technique or a small open surgery technique (depending on the cause of the carpal tunnel problem). Wherever possible, Dr McLean uses minimally-invasive techniques for shorter recovery times.
Dr James McLean has provided these recommendations as a rough guide to carpal surgery recovery. This guide is for reference only – speak with Dr McLean for a tailored plan suited to your situation.
Types of carpal tunnel surgery
The two types of carpal tunnel operations are:
In this method, a small cut (10mm) is made in the wrist, and a tiny camera is guided through a thin tube into the hand. This allows the Dr McLean to investigate the mechanics of the hand and cut the transverse carpal ligament with minimal scarring. This relieves the pressure on the median nerve to alleviate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
This involves a 30mm incision in the palm area, which allows Dr McLean to visualise the contents of the carpal tunnel as well as carefully cut the transverse carpal ligament. This relieves the pressure on the median nerve to alleviate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and allows visualisation and attention to any coexisting problems (such as ganglions or inflammation) at the same time.
The type of surgery you had may influence your recovery time. Each type has its merits and risks. Dr McLean can make a recommendation after consideration of all the factors relating to your condition.
What to expect after carpal tunnel surgery
Immediately after surgery, you may feel some numbness in your hand and fingers. This is due to the lasting effects of local anaesthesia. As it wears off, you may feel some stiffness and soreness.
You may need to keep your hand elevated and apply ice packs to reduce swelling. This is not the case for all patients. Dr McLean will explain his findings at the time of surgery and recommend whether this is appropriate for you..
If you have open release surgery, you may need a bulky dressing for 2-3 days afterwards. This is normally removed and the non-absorbable stitches will be covered by a dressing that will be removed at your 2-week follow-up after your operation.
You will need to restrict the use of your arm, especially for strenuous activities, so that it has a chance to recover without additional damage. Dr Mclean will advise you about these restrictions including the one everyone asks about – driving.
Returning to work after carpal tunnel surgery
When you can return to work depends on the type of surgery you had, whether the surgery was on your dominant hand, and the type of work activities you use your hands for.
For example, if you had endoscopic surgery on your non-dominant hand, and you only perform very light actions at work, you might return to work in 7 to 14 days.
However, if you had open release surgery on your dominant hand, and do repeated actions at work such as typing or manual labour, you may be off work for 6 to 8 weeks.
Dr McLean normally recommends 2 weeks off of work and re-evaluation at the 2 week follow-up after your operation. Dr McLean will re-assess you then and provide further recommendations.
Pain after carpal tunnel surgery
Pain after surgery is normal and part of the post-operative recovery. For those who do experience pain or weakness, it can resolve itself anywhere between a few days to a few months after surgery.
Over the counter medicines such as Ibuprofen may help reduce pain and inflammation. Dr McLean may prescribe you any stronger pain medications after a post-surgery assessment.
Carpal tunnel exercises
Dr McLean routinely prescribes “Dr McLean’s 6-pack hand exercises”. An information sheet demonstrating these exercises will be provided post-operatively by Dr McLean.
Where to get further advice
Dr James McLean can clarify your surgery and recovery options after conducting a professional assessment of your condition. If you plan on flying after your carpal tunnel surgery, be sure to check out this guide.