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Carpal tunnel surgery is designed to release compression of the median nerve, alleviating the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Is the Carpal Tunnel and Median Nerve?

The carpal tunnel is a small passageway on the palm side of your wrist. This tunnel serves as a protective channel for the median nerve and flexor tendons to pass through from your forearm to the palm of your hand.

The median nerve plays a critical role in your hand’s sensory and motor functions. It provides sensation to your thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of your ring finger. It also stimulates muscles that allow you to move these first three fingers as well as your thumbs and wrists.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the median nerve is compressed within the carpal tunnel, leading to symptoms like pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and wrist. It can also result in weakness and difficulty performing tasks that require fine motor skills.

The constant numbness, tingling and pain can make even simple tasks like typing or holding a cup a challenge. Over time, these symptoms can affect your job performance, limit your hobbies and even disrupt your sleep, leading to a reduced quality of life. Long-term compression of the nerve can lead to paralysis of the thumb and permanent sensory deficits in the digits of the hand.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • Pain radiating from the wrist
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Difficulty gripping objects

What Is Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery?

Carpal tunnel release surgery is designed to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms by reducing the pressure on the median nerve. To achieve this, a ligament of the carpal tunnel is cut to create more space for the median nerve, improve blood flow to the nerve and alleviate the compression.

When Is Carpal Tunnel Surgery Necessary?

If you’ve tried non-surgical treatments like wrist splints or corticosteroid injections and haven’t seen improvement, surgery may be the next step. Dr. Sharma can help you evaluate your condition and decide if surgery is right for you.

What Does Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery Entail?


The surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia, meaning you’ll be in a sleep-like state and won’t feel any pain. For patients with higher risks related to general anesthesia, local anesthesia may be used, which involves numbing the treated area so there is no pain.

Surgical Technique

A small incision is made in the palm of your hand to access the carpal tunnel. The transverse carpal ligament, which acts like the roof of the tunnel and presses on the median nerve with this condition, is then carefully cut to relieve the pressure.

Recovery From Carpal Tunnel Release

Post-op Bandages and Incision Care

After your surgery, your hand will be all wrapped in gauze, similar to how a boxer’s hand is wrapped before it goes in their glove. Make sure to keep the gauze clean and dry to help the healing process. If you need to shower, cover your hand and wrist with a plastic bag to keep the dressings from getting wet.

On the third day after your surgery, you can remove the gauze and gently wash the incision with warm, soapy water. However, continue to avoid submerging your hand in water until the sutures are removed. From there, your skin will continue to heal, eventually forming a scar that will fade over time.

Hand Position

We recommend keeping your hand and wrist above the level of your heart as much as possible throughout your recovery. The best way to do this is by using the support pillow we’ll send home with you to prop your arm up in a “question-asking position” with your forearm vertical. However, periodically moving your shoulder and elbow is vital for preventing stiffness.

Watch for Signs of Infection

While infection is rare, be alert for symptoms like fever, worsening pain or redness spreading past the incision site. If you suspect an infection, contact Dr. Sharma’s office immediately.

Follow-Up Appointments and Contacting the Office

Your first follow-up will be around two weeks post-op for suture removal with one of our physician’s assistants. A typical follow-up with Dr. Sharma is six weeks post-op, but you can schedule as needed if you have no concerns.

Everyone’s body heals at its own pace. If you have any concerns about how your wound is healing or any other questions or concerns throughout your recovery, don’t hesitate to reach out to Dr. Sharma’s office at Plastic Surgery Austin. We’ll provide you with specific contact numbers for your convenience.

Downtime/Time Off Work

The time you’ll need to take off work varies depending on your job. For desk jobs that involve light typing, you may return within a few days after surgery. We advise patients to start with short periods of typing, taking frequent breaks to rest their hands, and then gradually increase the duration as comfort allows.

If your job involves heavy typing, such as with data entry, or is physically demanding, you may need a bit more time to recover, possibly up to two weeks. More labor-intensive activities at work and those that involve repetitive hand and manual labor functions will lead to swelling and achiness in the wrist and palm if resumed too soon. This may cause mild prolonged discomfort and healing to take longer. It’s crucial to listen to your body and not rush the healing process after carpal tunnel surgery.

Pain Management

For pain management, Tylenol and ibuprofen are commonly used. You can safely alternate between taking Tylenol and ibuprofen for pain relief and ice your forearm throughout the first 48 hours to help with swelling.

Recommended Activities After Carpal Tunnel Surgery

After carpal tunnel release surgery, physical therapy is generally not required. Instead, the following modalities can aid in your recovery, helping regain strength and improving the range of motion in your hand and wrist:

  • Exercises: Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to improve flexibility and muscle tone
  • Manual Therapy: Techniques like massage or joint mobilization to improve movement and reduce stiffness
  • Functional Training: Guidance on how to perform daily activities without straining your hand

As activities gradually increase, strength, dexterity and coordination will improve. It is not uncommon to have discomfort at the base of the palm and swelling that can last for six weeks. This all gradually heals to near-normal strength by three months.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a complex condition with multiple potential causes. It occurs when the space inside the tunnel gets crowded, pressing down on the median nerve. While the size of the carpal tunnel itself usually remains the same, the compression often results from swelling or inflammation of the structures inside it, such as the flexor tendons. These tendons help you bend your fingers, and if the membrane that surrounds them (synovial tissue) becomes inflamed, it enlarges and can contribute to the pressure on the median nerve, exacerbating your symptoms.

A variety of factors can cause the swelling and inflammation of the tissues within the carpal tunnel. Understanding these factors can help you make informed decisions about your treatment options.

Repetitive Hand Motions

Repetitive strain can cause the ligaments and tendons in the carpal tunnel to swell, which then compresses the median nerve.

  • Computer Work: Constant typing and mouse usage can strain your wrist over time.
  • Assembly Line Work: Repetitive movements in jobs like manufacturing can contribute to the syndrome.
  • Musical Instruments: Playing instruments like the guitar or piano for extended periods can also be a factor.

Wrist Injuries

Injuries might require immediate medical attention and could lead to long-term issues if not properly treated.

  • Fractures: A broken wrist can cause changes in the anatomy that press on the median nerve.
  • Sprains: Even less severe injuries like sprains can have a similar effect if they cause swelling.

Health Conditions

Managing these underlying conditions is crucial, as they can exacerbate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage, making you more susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This autoimmune disease can cause inflammation in the wrists, affecting the carpal tunnel.

Other Factors

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes can cause swelling and contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Age: The condition is more common in older adults.
  • Genetics: Some people have a naturally smaller carpal tunnel, making them more prone to the condition.

Understanding the root cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome is the first step in finding effective treatment. If you’re experiencing symptoms, a consultation with Dr. Sharma at Plastic Surgery Austin can provide you with a comprehensive diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan.

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosing carpal tunnel syndrome involves a comprehensive approach to ensure accurate identification of the condition.

Physical, Sensory and Strength Examinations

  • Initially, a physical examination is conducted to assess any visible symptoms.
  • Sensory examinations might follow to evaluate your ability to feel various sensations in the affected area.
  • A strength examination can also be performed to measure the muscle strength in your fingers, hand and wrist.

Electrodianostic Studies

In addition to these initial assessments, electrodiagnostic studies may be carried out by a qualified neurologist. These tests are designed to detect changes in nerve conduction, offering valuable insights into the severity and progression of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Steroid Injection

For some patients, a trial of steroid injection into the wrist can be both beneficial and diagnostic. This can provide temporary relief from the symptoms and help your specialist confirm the diagnosis.

Can Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affect Just One Hand?

Yes, carpal tunnel syndrome can affect just one hand, although it’s not uncommon for both hands to experience symptoms. The condition may start in one hand and later affect the other, or it may remain localized to a single hand. The severity of symptoms can also vary between hands.

Surgery for One or Both Hands

If you’re experiencing symptoms in just one hand, surgery can be performed solely on that hand to relieve the pressure on the median nerve. However, if both hands are affected, you have the option to undergo surgery on both. This could be done either simultaneously or staged, meaning one hand is operated on first, followed by the other at a later date.

Dr. Sharma can guide you through the decision-making process, weighing the pros and cons based on your specific condition and lifestyle needs.

Ready for Relief From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Contact Plastic Surgery Austin to Learn More

Living with carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t just about managing occasional discomfort; it can be a debilitating condition that significantly impacts your daily living. But you don’t have to let carpal tunnel syndrome control your life. Surgery is a viable option that can provide lasting relief and allow you to regain the full function of your hand.

If you’re tired of the limitations and discomfort that come with carpal tunnel syndrome, schedule a consultation with Dr. Sharma at Plastic Surgery Austin. Together, you can explore your treatment options and decide if surgery is the right path for you to reclaim your pain-free life.

Call us at 512-838-3658 or connect with us online now.


Contact our office to schedule a private consultation with Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, Sanjay K. Sharma, M.D., F.A.C.S.