What is carpal tunnel release surgery?

Carpal tunnel release surgery is a medical procedure that can relieve pain, tingling and numbness from carpal tunnel syndrome. Median nerves run down both your arms and into your hands. In your wrists, these nerves pass through small channels called carpal tunnels. Sometimes, one of your carpal tunnels can swell up after injury or repetitive movements. When this happens, your carpal tunnel narrows. This puts pressure on your median nerve and causes pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome. 

There are two types of carpal tunnel release surgeries: traditional and endoscopic. In traditional surgery, the doctor cuts into and opens up your injured wrist to do the procedure. In endoscopic surgery, the doctor makes tiny cuts in your wrist and palm. They insert a small camera on a tube through one of the cuts. They then put a tool through the other cut to do the procedure. 

In both operations, the doctor cuts through carpal tunnel tissue in your wrist. This relieves pain and pressure on your median nerve.

What to expect from carpal tunnel release surgery

You prepare for carpal tunnel release surgery much like you do many other surgeries. When you get to the hospital, you change into a gown and go to the surgery room. The doctor applies numbing injections to your wrist, so you don't feel the operation. They she may also give you medications that make you sleepy and help you forget the surgery. The doctor performs the surgery and puts stitches in any cuts made.

Doctors usually do carpal tunnel release surgery on an outpatient basis. That means you get to go home on the same day that you have surgery. After the procedure, nurses and doctors watch you in the hospital for a few hours to make sure the surgery went well. Then, you can go home and rest. You need to keep your wrist in a brace for several weeks, so it can heal. Slight wrist pain for a few days or weeks after surgery is normal.

Common conditions requiring treatment

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the condition that carpal tunnel release surgery treats. It starts gradually and gets worse over time. You may feel tingling and numbness in your fingers or palm. Your hands might also become weak, and you may have trouble holding onto things. This condition can also cause sensations that feel like small electric shocks going up your arm.

When your doctor diagnoses you with carpal tunnel syndrome, they first might want you to try a few different treatments that don't involve surgery. These treatments include:

  • Icing your wrist a few times a day
  • Taking medications that lower inflammation in your body
  • Wearing a brace to stabilize your wrist and keep it straight
  • Getting cortisone injections to reduce swelling around the carpal tunnel

If these treatments don't relieve symptoms, your doctor may decide that surgery is the best option.

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