Most of us use our hands almost every minute of the day without ever giving it a second thought. But if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, the pain, numbness, and tingling in your fingers get your attention. Treatments like wrist braces and corticosteroids can help, but in more severe cases, you may need surgery.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on your median nerve. This is what gives you feeling in your thumb and all your fingers except your pinky. When the nerve goes through your wrist, it passes through the carpal tunnel — a narrow path that’s made of bone and ligament. If you get any swelling in your wrist, that tunnel gets squeezed and pinches your median nerve. That, in turn, causes your symptoms.
Whether you’ve decided to have surgery or are still thinking about it, you should know what to expect.
When Would My Doctor Suggest Surgery?
Over time, carpal tunnel syndrome can weaken the muscles of your hands and wrists. If symptoms go on for too long, your condition will keep getting worse.
If any of these sound like your situation, your doctor might suggest surgery:
- Other treatments — like braces, corticosteroids, and changes to your daily routine — haven’t helped.
- You have pain, numbness, and tingling that don’t go away or get better in 6 months.
- You find it harder to grip, grasp, or pinch objects like you once did.
There are two main types of carpal tunnel release surgery: open and endoscopic. In both cases, your doctor cuts the ligament around the carpal tunnel to take pressure off the median nerve and relieve your symptoms. After the surgery, the ligament comes back together, but with more room for the median nerve to pass through.
- Open surgery involves a larger cut, or incision — up to 2 inches from your wrist to your palm.
- In endoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes one opening in your wrist. He may also make one in your wrist. These cuts are smaller, about a half-inch each. He then places a tiny camera in one of the openings to guide him as he cuts the ligament.