Recovery After Carpal Tunnel Surgery
For people with mild cases of carpal tunnel, treatment often revolves around at-home solutions such as hot and cold therapy, the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), wearing a splint, and even taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to ease discomfort. However, carpal tunnel can be a degenerative condition that can lead to damage of the median nerve in the hand and wrist. In more severe cases, surgery may be required. And many patients are surprised to realize that full recovery can take as much as a year in some cases.
The first 2 weeks post-surgery
While carpal tunnel-related symptoms can improve as soon as the day of surgery, don’t expect to have full use of the treated hand. Usually, the doctor will require the bandages to stay on for 1-2 weeks immediately after surgery and recovering patients should expect to be told to minimize hand movements to prevent straining. The first few days after a procedure, patients may need a caregiver, as driving is not recommended. Similarly, individuals who normally write frequently will also need to wait until a week post-surgery.
What to expect 1 month post-surgery
During this period the physician will recommend gentle hand movements, but patients are still discouraged from gripping, pulling, or pinching movements. After bandages are removed, a doctor may recommend occupational therapy, as well as guided exercises to improve hand and wrist movement and boost healing. Keep in mind that during the early stages of recovery some people may need to take time off from work.
What to expect 3 months post-surgery
Depending on the severity of a person’s carpal tunnel before the surgery, pain and discomfort symptoms may still be present. Some research has shown that complete relief from carpal tunnel symptoms immediately following surgery is usually only around 50%, whereas general improvement over longer periods has a success rate of 90%. Likewise, research has shown that nerves improve after surgery at a rate of roughly 1 inch per month. Side effects such as tingling and numbness in the fingers may still be present several months after surgery. Another common pain culprit can include healing of the incision site.
Factors that impact recovery
Other factors can also determine how quickly an individual recovers and how long a caretaker may be needed. For example, people that perform repetitive tasks with the hands, such as typing or assembly-line work may need to wait 6-8 weeks to return to work. Likewise, surgery on a person’s dominant hand may mean reduced independence around the home during the recovery period. And finally, an open versus an endoscopic surgery will have markedly different recovery timelines. Patients undergoing open surgeries should expect longer recoveries while the limited invasiveness of endoscopic surgeries can shorten recovery times significantly.