Close up of woman arms holding her painful wrist caused by prolonged work on the computer, laptop. Carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, neurological disease concept. Numbness of the hand

A Guide on Carpal Tunnel Surgery Recovery 

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on January 2nd, 2024.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the most common peripheral neuropathy treated by a hand surgeon. Typical carpal tunnel symptoms include numbness and tingling, or a pins and needles sensation, due to compression of a nerve. In CTS specifically, the Median Nerve is compressed in the Carpal Tunnel, which results in noticeable symptoms in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger, also known as the Median Nerve Distribution of the hand. This condition may worsen if not treated and could lead to loss of hand function over time. When non-surgical treatment options don’t relieve the pain or perhaps the nerve damage is severe, surgical treatment options may be recommended. However, proper carpal tunnel surgery recovery can be just as important as treatment.

What does carpal tunnel surgery involve?  

Carpal tunnel syndrome surgery involves a release of the median nerve to decrease pressure on it within the carpal tunnel of the wrist. Surgical approaches are typically considered outpatient procedures and may be done endoscopically through a small incision using a small camera, after applying local anesthesia, with a single incision typically about 2 inches in length, or multiple incision techniques. Each of these techniques would split the transverse carpal ligament, or in other words, the “roof” of the carpal tunnel. Because the symptomatic median nerve lies underneath this ligament, severing the ligament via hand surgery will open the carpal tunnel and relieve the pressure on the median nerve that is causing numbness and tingling, and/or weakness in the affected hand. Some risks following carpal tunnel release surgery may include bleeding, infection, and increased sensitivity, but as with any open surgery, there may be other risks depending on other medical conditions. It is best to consult with the treating physician to be aware of potential risks and signs to keep a look out for. If all goes well with surgery, the patient is usually able to return home the same day.  

What happens after carpal tunnel surgery?  

The carpal tunnel recovery time and process can look different for each individual. Following a carpal tunnel release surgery, the patient will likely be bandaged for 1-2 weeks initially before sutures are removed at a follow-up appointment with the physician or physician’s assistant. Sharp wrist pain is subjective and varies from person to person, but there may be pain and/or swelling, which is typically managed with medication as recommended by the doctor.

Physical therapy can also be beneficial during carpal tunnel surgery recovery. The patient may expect to be referred by their doctor to an occupational therapist, certified hand therapist, or physical therapist for physical rehabilitation services. Suggested interventions may include:

  • Desensitization of the scar tissue and sensory retraining
  • Management of edema (swelling)
  • Education
  • Exercise
  • Immobilization with a custom-fabricated orthosis
  • Nerve gliding
  • Pain management
  • Strengthening
  • Wound care.

The strategies provided are individualized and completely dependent on the patient’s recovery process and problem areas. For example, patients who underwent an endoscopic release with an incision less than 1 inch long will not require as much wound care or scar management as a patient who required an open technique with a 2-inch incision site. The recovery time for carpal tunnel surgery can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. 

How soon can I use my hand after carpal tunnel surgery? 

Following carpal tunnel surgery, patients can usually return to light hand use relatively quickly, in only 1-2 weeks. Once sutures are removed, patients can return to light activities without the risk of rupturing the sutures and re-opening the incision site. However, there may be continued pain, swelling, or sensitivity. An immobilization orthosis, or splint, can be used to support the healing wrist while allowing for safe hand and finger use, although there may be strength precautions in place initially, which means that activities requiring significant strength or force may be deferred until about 4 to 6 weeks post-surgery. See more tips on how to prevent carpal tunnel to ensure it doesn’t come back. 

We’re Here for You

Luckily, if you are having carpal tunnel symptoms, physical therapy can help. If you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or planning on having surgery, contact us to find an Ivy Rehab clinician to help you live life to the fullest. Click here to find a location near you.

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.