Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: When is Surgery Necessary?

January 19, 2024 2 min read

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) affects millions of people worldwide. The condition occurs when the median nerve, which runs from your forearm into your hand, becomes squashed. This results in pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and fingers and can affect certain hand motions. While non-surgical treatments can help manage the symptoms of CTS, surgery may be necessary in some cases.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel protects the median nerve and the tendons that control the fingers. When compressed, it can lead to CTS. Some factors can put you at a higher risk of developing CTS:

  • Repetitive hand movements
  • Wrist injury
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity

When is Surgery Necessary for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Surgery is generally considered a last resort for CTS after attempting non-surgical treatments such as wrist splinting, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication. If the symptoms were not alleviated through these alternative therapies, surgery might be necessary. Surgery can reduce or eliminate systems for most people. Surgery is recommended if:

  • CTS interferes with daily tasks
  • Non-surgical treatments did not work
  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle atrophy

Types of Carpal Tunnel Surgery 

There are two common types of CTS surgery. The two approaches, open release and endoscopic are equally effective and come with the same risks. Recovery can be shorter for endoscopic surgery, which makes it faster for people to return to their daily activities. Most carpal tunnel surgeries are performed under local anesthesia.

  • Open carpal tunnel release: This is the traditional method of treating CTS. A cut is made on the inside of the wrist, severing the flexor retinaculum, which is the ligament applying pressure to the median nerve.
  • Endoscopic carpal tunnel release: This is a less invasive procedure. A small cut is made on the palm and wrist; a camera is inserted, enabling the surgeon to cut through the flexor retinaculum.

Recovery from Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Surgery recovery always varies from person to person. It will also depend on the type of
surgery. Endoscopic surgery tends to have a faster recovery time than open carpal tunnel release. After the surgery is complete, the area will be bandaged.

Pain medication and anti-inflammatories are often prescribed to speed up the healing process. Most people can return to normal activities within 3-6 months. Wrist splints or braces might be needed during this period to ensure the wrist is not being overused during healing. Physical therapy can be beneficial in regaining strength and mobility post-surgery.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be a challenging condition to manage, and symptoms often interfere with routine activities. Surgery may be necessary for CTS when non-surgical treatments prove to be ineffective. If CTS interferes with daily tasks, you have nerve damage or muscle atrophy; your doctor can also recommend surgery.

If you are experiencing symptoms of CTS, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment. With proper care and treatment, most individuals can reduce symptoms and regain the use of their hands and wrists.

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