How Long does Recovery from Carpal Tunnel Surgery Take?

Rebecca Harkin
Rebecca Harkin
Typing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome if done incorrectly.
Typing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome if done incorrectly.

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve between the forearm and hand is compressed by swelling ligaments, causing a tingling sensation, weakness, and pain in the hand. Surgery for carpel tunnel syndrome relieves the symptoms by both separating the thick wrist ligament, called the transverse carpel ligament, and decreasing pressure on the median nerve. Complete recovery from carpal tunnel release is typically one to three months, but it can be as long as a year, depending on the type of surgery and whether complications occur. Common complications delaying recovery are caused by median nerve damage during surgery, and excessive swelling, scar tissue formation, and infection following surgery. Physical therapy, on the other hand, may shorten recovery time.

Splints can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Splints can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel surgery can be performed as open or endoscopic surgery. Open carpel tunnel surgery involves making a 2-inch (about 5 cm) slit on the palm side of the wrist to access the transverse carpel ligament. In endoscopic surgery, one or two small incisions are made in the wrist through which tools are introduced to cut the wrist ligament. Both types of surgery are done under local anesthesia and do not require a hospital stay. Recovery from endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery is slightly shorter than for open surgery.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

The median nerve goes through the carpal tunnel and then separates, spreading out across the hand. The pattern of nerve branching is not exactly the same for everyone, so occasionally the median nerve can be inadvertently damaged during surgery. Loss of feeling and function in the hand is the result. Endoscopic surgery has a higher frequency of nerve damage. If the median nerve is partially cut recovery is typically up to one year, and if it is severed, full recovery may not be possible.

Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers.
Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers.

Excessive swelling and formation of scar tissue can also prolong recovery from carpal tunnel surgery. The degree of swelling is variable, but excessive swelling can prolong the pain in the wrist for up to four months. Scar tissue formation, typically more of a problem with open surgery, can occur to such a degree that the wrist tendons and the median nerve are bound up, limiting wrist movement. Sometimes a second surgery is required to eliminate some of the scar tissue, prolonging recovery time by a few months while the second surgery heals.

Surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome can be done as either an open or an endoscopic surgical procedure.
Surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome can be done as either an open or an endoscopic surgical procedure.

Infections, though rare, can prolong recovery from carpal tunnel surgery by delaying the healing of the surgical wound. The length of delay varies depending on the infection and treatment. Usually, if an infection is caught early and treated quickly, it will not impact recovery for long. Being diligent about wound care and watching for signs of infection such as fever, increasing tenderness at the wound site, and wound discharge will help to catch infections early and prevent delayed recovery.

Physical therapy following carpal tunnel surgery is not always required by surgeons, but it may help speed up recovery. Therapy is typically started a few weeks after surgery, and focuses on increasing strength and mobility. Another benefit from physical therapy is greater use of the wrist, once the surgery has healed.

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Discussion Comments

anon1002206

I have the surgery on my right hand about five years ago and it took 10-12 weeks to heal. Having said that I have since been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and need the surgery on my left hand which I will be having soon. Having diabetes means that I am more prone to infections and such, so it might be a longer healing time for me. I hope not.

If sill considering the surgery, just know that you do need it, and the longer you put it off the worse your condition will get, to the point that surgery might not even help. So it doesn't matter how long it takes to heal; you need to get it done.

Spotiche5

@talentryto- My sister had this type of procedure, and was back to typing within several months. Based on the information in the article though, it sounds like results and downtime from carpal tunnel surgery varies greatly from patient to patient. You should talk to your doctor to see what he thinks you should expect following your procedure.

I do think that your downtime will depend on how well you heal, which will be based on how well you follow your doctor's orders. If you get plenty of rest following surgery, do physical therapy, and wear splints as recommended, you will probably be back to normal within a few weeks. This is how my sister experienced a successful, quick recovery.

Talentryto

Does anyone have any thoughts about how long it takes to get back to typing normally following carpal tunnel surgery? I am considering surgery, but my job requires me to do a lot of typing. I have a friend who couldn't type for over a year, and I can't afford that much downtime.

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    • Typing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome if done incorrectly.
      Typing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome if done incorrectly.
    • Splints can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
      Splints can help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.
    • A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
      A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
    • Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers.
      Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome may experience numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers.
    • Surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome can be done as either an open or an endoscopic surgical procedure.
      Surgery to treat carpal tunnel syndrome can be done as either an open or an endoscopic surgical procedure.