Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the a nerve that runs through a small tunnel in the wrist is trapped and compressed. Pressure on the nerve may result in pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and lack of control in the hand and fingers. The thumb, index, and middle fingers are commonly affected.

A wide variety of causes can exert pressure on this nerve. Causes include repetitious motion with subsequent wear and tear, fractures and dislocations, fluid retention, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes,  elongation and enlargement of certain bones (acromegaly), and  decreased function of the thyroid gland that results in swelling of the tissues (myxedema).

Surgical Procedure

"Carpal tunnel release" is the name of the most common surgical procedure.  In CTR, the surgeon divides the transverse carpal ligament and "releases" the pressure on the median nerve. He may do this using either a closed (endoscopic) or an open technique.

Patients are given a local anesthetic, and some patients choose to watch the procedure. Your surgeon then uses special instruments to divide the carpal ligament and then close the incision. Since the surgery is done on an outpatient basis, the patient returns home on the same day of the surgery.


Early detection of carpal tunnel syndrome improves the results of surgery. Patients most often return to work after one to three days. After open carpal tunnel surgery, patients return to their normal activities in a few weeks. Since endoscopic carpal tunnel release requires only small incisions, patients should expect less scarring and pain and a quicker recovery than after open carpal tunnel surgery. Your surgeon may also recommend physical therapy for a smooth recovery.

Candidate patients

Before carpal tunnel release is recommended, your hand will be examined for grip strength, sensitivity, and motor function. Your doctor may also request x-rays,  an electromyogram (EMG), or a nerve conduction study.

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Last modified: 07/27/08