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When more conservative treatments fail, surgery is sometimes performed. Many patients are largely relieved of carpal tunnel symptoms after surgical treatment.
Though surgery may indeed relive some of the symptoms, it is quite possible to treat carpal tunnel syndrome through less severe means, especially when addressed early on.
Effect of Carpal Tunnel Release on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Release is a simple procedure that can be done in several ways, depending upon your particular case and the surgeon's experience and preference.
The thick ligament on the palm side of your carpal tunnel is cut, allowing the contents of the tunnel to expand and resulting in a reduction of pressure. The procedure is ordinarily done in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia, some circumstances may recommend that the whole arm be "put to sleep" with a nerve block. General anesthesia—where you’re "totally under"—is rarely necessary.
You’ll be put into a hospital gown and taken to a surgical suite (operating room). After you lie down on an operating table, at least one intravenous line will be attached to a needle in your vein, and monitors may be attached to you to keep track of your heart beat, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and so forth. If you've requested it, you may be sedated for additional comfort.
Approaches to carpal tunnel release include:
- The open approach, which simply cuts through the skin to expose the ligament, then cuts across the ligament with scissors.
- Some surgeons prefer a smaller incision that accommodates only the scissors.
- Certain circumstances may dictate that an arthroscope be used to see the carpal tunnel in greater detail. This procedure will take slightly longer, mostly to set up the equipment. During the arthroscopy the surgeon can put small instruments into the carpal tunnel to cut the ligament.
Each of these procedures takes only a few minutes. Afterward your incision will be closed, and you will be taken briefly to a recovery room where the immediate effects of the sedation or anesthesia can wear off and nurses can monitor you.
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Research Evidence on Carpal Tunnel Release
Though surgery may indeed relieve some of the symptoms, it is quite possible to treat carpal tunnel syndrome through less severe means, especially when addressed early on.
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have carpal tunnel release, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
- Nerve damage
- Stiffness of the fingers
- Continued numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
Call Your Doctor
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medicines you were given after surgery, or which persist for more than two days after discharge from the hospital
- Pain that you cannot control with the medicines you have been given
- Increased tingling or weakness in your hand
- Fingers become extremely swollen, cool, or discolored
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
In case of an emergency, CALL 911.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos.org/ .
American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/ .
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research website. Available at: http://www.mayo.edu/ .
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