Carpal tunnel surgery is a medical procedure that is done to treat a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where a ligament known as the transverse carpal ligament lies over the median nerve, putting pressure on it. The condition causes numbness, weakness, or even pain in the wrist or hand.
Carpal tunnel surgery is therefore done to cut the transverse carpal ligament and free the median nerve from pressure, thus, providing relief.
Under what conditions is carpal tunnel surgery considered as a treatment option?
Carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated through other ways aside from surgery. People who have the condition can be given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids. However, when these treatment options fail to work, a carpal tunnel surgery can be recommended by the doctor.
Here are some of the reasons why you may need to have surgery for the treatment of your carpal tunnel syndrome:
- when the symptoms such as pain, persists for weeks or months after having tried nonsurgical means of treatment
- when there is nerve damage (severe symptoms may be experienced if your condition is left untreated and without surgery)
- loss of hand coordination, being unable to sleep due to severe pain, and loss of strength and grip
Types of Carpal Tunnel Surgeries
Carpal tunnel surgeries usually involve the cutting of the transverse carpal ligament. There are two main types of surgeries that can be performed when you have carpal tunnel syndrome. They are:
1. Open Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery
In this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision at the base of your palm, which will make the transverse ligament visible for cutting. Once the surgeon is done cutting the ligament, pressure is released on the median nerve, relieving the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The incision is then closed with stitches.
2. Endoscopic Carpal Tunnel Surgery
This type of surgery involves a smaller incision as compared to the open surgery. During surgery, the doctor makes use of an endoscope (a thin tube with a camera attached to its end) to examine the structures of your palm and wrists without having a large incision. The surgeon then uses other cutting tools to cut the transverse ligament.
What are the differences between the two surgeries?
The main difference between open carpal tunnel surgery and endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery is the way they are performed. Most of the time, the endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery is more preferred than the open surgery.
The reason is that a smaller incision is made during an endoscopic surgery. Having a smaller incision means that the patients will most likely heal faster and experience lesser pain during the recovery process.
Are there any risks to carpal tunnel surgery?
Most carpal tunnel surgeries are usually successful. The possible risks that are associated with carpal tunnel surgery include nerve damage, damage to the blood vessels, or a patient getting affected by anesthesia. However, these risks occur in less than 1 percent of the surgeries.
What should you expect after the surgery?
Carpal tunnel surgery usually takes less than an hour to perform. Here are some of the changes that you should expect once the surgery is over:
1. Side effects
As with any other surgery, carpal tunnel surgery also has side effects. One of the side effects that will set in first is pain. The pain sets in once the effect of the anesthesia fades away. The intensity of the pain varies among patients. Pain can range from mild to severe.
You will most probably be given pain medication to help deal with the pain. However, if you are in too much pain and the painkillers don't seem to offer any relief, quickly inform your doctor about it.
Other side effects that you may experience include bleeding or swelling of the hand. Swelling can be easily handled by placing ice on your hand for twenty minutes every hour. If the swelling persists, then go to the hospital to seek further medical care.
Bleeding usually occurs when the incision has reopened. It may be caused by doing something that strains your hand. If your hand bleeds after the surgery, see your doctor for help.
2. Loss of handgrip
The transverse carpal ligament is the main ligament that provides strength to your hand. It also enables you to grip things tightly. After it is cut, your hand will lose its previous strength, and you may, therefore, find it difficult to do some of the tasks you used to do before.
However, this side effect is usually normal. You may regain your strength after your hand is healed, although not all patients recover back to their full strength. You can improve your chances of getting your hand mobility and grip back by having appointments with a physiotherapist to help you recover.
Physiotherapists usually have exercise programs that will help your hand heal faster and to become as strong as it was before.
3. The recovery period
After the surgery, your hand will be bandaged up for at least two weeks or up to when your doctor recommends it. The recovery period usually takes six to eight weeks. However, some patients may take even months to fully recover.
Your recovery period will depend on the kind of surgery you had and on how well you take care of your hand after the surgery. To shorten the recovery process, make sure that you are in constant contact with your doctor.
Ask your doctor for advice and go for regular checkups. Having regular checkups will ensure that your doctor is fully aware of your progress and it will also be easier for your doctor to address any issues or complications that may arise.
The Bottom Line
Carpal tunnel surgery is one of the most effective ways of getting your carpal tunnel syndrome treated. As explained above, this type of surgery is successful in the majority of carpal tunnel syndrome cases.
You should, however, make sure that you talk with your doctor about the two carpal tunnel surgeries as well as their benefits and risks. Knowing the options will help you decide on which type of surgery you're going to have.