The journal American Family Physician reports that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) affects about 3-6% of adults in the United States. CTS is a repetitive stress injury that leads to pain, weakness, and numbness in the fingers, hands and wrists and the CTS symptoms can range from minor aches and pains to debilitating.
What is Carpal Tunnel?
Carpal tunnel is a passageway under the transverse ligament that connects the wrist bones together. CTS occurs when the median nerve, which extends from the forearm into the hands through the carpal tunnel, gets pinched or squeezed at the wrist due to swollen tissues.
Who are at risk?
As reported in the 2012 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet published by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, women are three times more likely than men to develop CTS. The syndrome usually develops only in adults. Those who suffer from diabetes or other metabolic disorders that put strain on the nerves of the body are at a higher risk for developing CTS.
In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found carpal tunnel syndrome to be the most severe of all non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses, requiring 28 days away from work to recover.
Carpal Tunnel Surgery
Surgery may be indicated if you do not gain relief from nonsurgical treatments. In chronic and severe cases with constant numbness and weakness of the hand and fingers, surgery may be essential to prevent irreversible damage.
The procedure is relatively simple and can be done on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia. The surgeon will make a small cut in the transverse ligament of the wrist which forms the roof of the carpal tunnel. This is done to increase the size of the tunnel and reduce the pressure on the median nerve and flexor tendons. After surgery, the ligament will heal and scar tissue covers the gap made during surgery.
Endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery is less invasive than open surgery. A thin flexible tube with a camera at its end (endoscope) is inserted into the wrist via a small incision on the skin. Viewing through the endoscope, the surgeon cuts a section of the ligament from the inside of the carpal tunnel. Your doctor will advise you on type of surgery that best meets your needs. After endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery, you will most likely be able to go home on the same day.
After the Surgery
If you had endoscopic surgery, you can expect shorter recovery than after open surgery. CTS symptoms improve after surgery, but recovery can be gradual. Expect some pain, stiffness, and swelling.
If the surgery was on the non-dominant hand which you do not use for repetitive activities, you may be able to get back to work within 1 to 2 days. If it was on the dominant hand which you use to perform repetitive activities, you may need to rest for four weeks or more for complete recovery. The effort that you put into rehabilitative physical therapy can play a key role in determining how soon you can return to work.