There are two types of procedures:

  • In endoscopic surgery, the surgeon uses an endoscope—a telescope-like device with a tiny camera attached to it—to see inside the carpal tunnel and perform the surgery through a small single incision in your wrist. Endoscopic surgery may allow faster recovery and less postoperative discomfort than open release surgery.
  • Open surgery involves making a larger incision in the palm of your hand over the carpal tunnel and cutting through the ligament to enlarge the tunnel and free the nerve.

Both procedures are performed under general or local anesthesia and do not require an overnight hospital stay. During the healing process, the ligament tissues gradually grow back together, allowing more room for the nerve. 

Anatomy

The carpal tunnel is a narrow structure at the base of the palm. It is formed by the bones of the wrist and a strong band of connective tissue called the transverse carpal ligament. Increased pressure in the tunnel affects the function of the median nerve. The median nerve controls feeling in the palm side of the thumb, index finger and long fingers. The tendons that bend the fingers and thumb, called flexor tendons, also travel through the carpal tunnel.

When is surgery recommended?

If you have tingling, numbness, pain and weakness in the hand, wrist or forearm, and all non-surgical methods of treatment have failed—including wrist splinting, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and injectable corticosteroids—then you should consider carpal tunnel release surgery.

What is the recovery time?

Following surgery, soreness around the incision may last for several weeks or months. There are no restrictions on activities. However, heavy gripping and lifting may cause pain for awhile. Numbness and tingling may disappear quickly or slowly, and it may take several months for strength in the hand and wrist to return to normal. Carpal tunnel symptoms may not completely go away after surgery, especially in severe cases. As with all surgical procedures, specific recovery time varies by patient and demand.

FAQs

How long does carpal tunnel release surgery take?

The surgery itself typically takes about 15 minutes. However, patients usually spend about 45 minutes in the operating room while equipment is set up and anesthesia administered.

Where is the surgery performed?

The surgery may be performed in an outpatient operatory or at a hospital. Ask your surgeon where the surgery will take place.

When can I return to work and daily activities?

After surgery, there are no restrictions on activities. However, heavy gripping and lifting may cause pain for several days or weeks. As with all surgical procedures, specific recovery time varies by patient and demand.