What's it like: To get carpal tunnel surgery

Surgery can correct carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is also called median nerve entrapment, referring to the median nerve that runs along your forearm into your wrist and becomes compressed because of swollen tissue.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: January 12, 2013 at 1:10 am •  Published: January 13, 2013

Why get carpal tunnel surgery?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is also called median nerve entrapment, referring to the median nerve that runs along your forearm into your wrist and becomes compressed because of swollen tissue.

Your carpal tunnel is a narrow funnel in your wrist that protects your median nerve. Sometimes the tissue inside that tunnel can swell, press against your median nerve and cause pain. This is what causes carpal tunnel syndrome.

People suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome might notice numbness or tingling in their hands and wrists. You might experience sharp, piercing pain at work or find it difficult to comb your hair in the morning.

Carpal tunnel surgery is generally an option after you've exhausted other more conservative medical therapy. Before getting the surgery, your doctor might first recommend you wear a splint and use anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the pain. You might also be given a list of exercises to do to help alleviate some of the problems. If this doesn't work, surgery might be the next option.

Insurance generally covers carpal tunnel surgery when it's found to be medically necessary.

What happens when you get carpal tunnel surgery?

Before you get the surgery, your doctor will run a few tests to determine whether your carpal tunnel syndrome is severe enough to call for surgery.

For your carpal tunnel surgery, your doctor will likely perform the surgery either endoscopically, using a small camera and small incisions, or an open surgery, making about a two-inch incision. It is typically an outpatient surgery performed either by numbing the area or placing you under general anesthesia, meaning you're asleep for the procedure.

During an open surgery, your surgeon will make a small incision on your palm. Once inside, your surgeon will cut a ligament in your wrist known as the carpal ligament. This creates more room for the median nerve, which helps you move all of your fingers except your little finger. In some cases, your surgeon might use a microscope to clean up the outside of the nerve.

While your wrist heals, your ligament tissues will generally grow back but leave more room for the median nerve.

Does it hurt?

You most likely won't feel anything during the surgery. Afterward, your doctor might prescribe medication to alleviate some of the pain and recommend that you elevate your hand above your heart to reduce swelling. You might experience some swelling and stiffness in your hand and wrist after the surgery. You might also be required to wear a wrist brace after the surgery.


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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