What happens during surgery?

Surgery to relieve Carpal Tunnel Syndrome consists of an incision made to the wrist at the base of the palm.  The ligament that forms the top of the carpal tunnel is cut which allows it to expand thus alleviating pressure on the median nerve.  If thickening around the tendons is present, this can also be cut away, allowing the median nerve more room within the carpal tunnel.

After surgery, a dressing will be applied to the hand and wrist.  The dressing will be deliberately large and bulky to try to keep your wrist in a neutral position.  If you’re allowed home the same day, your nurse or healthcare professional will advise you when you can reduce the size of the dressing.  You will have sutures, which will be taken out around ten to fourteen days after surgery. To speed your recovery, it’s advisable to elevate your hand as much as possible.  When you go to bed, try to place your hand on a pillow to keep it raised.  This will minimise swelling.

After your wound is completely healed and your dressing and sutures have been removed, you can work on minimising the appearance of scarring.  Massage the scar and surrounding skin with non-perfumed hand cream.  This will decrease sensitivity in the area and soften the scar tissue, accelerating the healing of the skin.

Post-surgery exercises

  • Gently bend your wrist backwards and forwards, slowly and gently being careful not to jerk or strain.
  • Touch your thumb to the tip of each finger. Immediately after surgery, you may only be able to reach one or two of your fingers.  Don’t force anything.  In time, you will able to touch each finger.

For best results, perform these exercises two or three times a day, repeating each movement ten to fifteen times each.  To begin with, these exercises may be a little bit uncomfortable, but if you experience significant pain then you should stop immediately.

Resuming activity

Once the pain from the surgery begins to subside, you can begin using your hand again for less challenging daily activities such as eating or getting dressed – provided it doesn’t cause pain. Gradually, you’ll be able to use your hand more and more and by around two weeks after surgery, you’ll be able to engage in most of your normal daily activities.  Don’t resume driving until you’re confident that you can maintain control of the vehicle.

Although it’s important to engage in gentle activity to rehabilitate your hand and wrist post-surgery, you must be careful not to overuse your affected hand.  If you do so, you risk prolonging your healing time.  Watch out for increased pain, redness or swelling and cut back on your exercises and activities until your hand recovers. In more severe cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it can take up to 6 months for your hand to recover.  In some extremely severe cases, you may not entirely regain the same level of strength in your hand and wrist that you used to have.

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