What to Expect for your Carpal Tunnel Surgery: Common Patient Questions and Answers

  1. How long is the surgery? The surgery itself is only about 10 minutes from start to finish. You will come to the place of operating room, nurses will check you in, and start an IV. You will meet with the anesthesiologist, and once we get back to the room, it only takes about 10 minutes. 
  2. What kind of anesthesia will I get? Generally, people get very light, or what is called “twilight” anesthesia. This means you are breathing on your own, and can be awakened quickly, but you will also be totally “out.” Some people worry this means they will be aware of their surgery or feel a lot of pain, which is not the case.  
  3. What happens after surgery?  Even though you will be awake and home very soon after your surgery, having anesthesia also means that you can’t drive the day of the surgery. You will need to bring someone who will be your designated driver.  
  4. What if I can’t find a drive there or home? It is possible to do the surgery under local anesthesia (or numbing) only. Many people can tolerate this procedure perfectly well with just numbing it.  Either way, the take home point is: whatever you decide to do, you will not experience significant pain, and you will be comfortable throughout the whole process.
  5. When can I use the hand? The great thing about choosing to do a minimally invasive technique is that you can literally use your hand hours after the surgery. After the surgery, that night, you can remove the dressing and wash your hand. The next day, if you feel well, then you will allowed to drive, run errands, make food for yourself, and provide general care for yourself. Don’t overdo it though. You may want to take it easy, and, for instance, wear sweatpants and eat a pre-made dinner. 
    • Even though you can’t technically “ruin” anything, you should still take it easy, and not push through pain. Take time to heal. You are not a car, and you need  time for your body to recuperate. You can do a lot of things, but if it hurts a lot, it won’t do you any good to push through pain. “No Pain, no gain” does not apply here in the first few days and weeks after surgery. 
  6. What can I expect on the first night after surgery? Once the numbness wears off, you will experience some pain. It will not be excruciating, but you should take either a narcotic pain reliever or some ibuprofen. Ice helps as well. Elevation is also important, and so whenever you can, keep your hand above your heart. This reduces swelling and pain–sometimes even better than pain meds!
  7. When do the stitches come out? The sutures, which do not dissolve, are removed in about 10-14 days. You should call for an appointment. 
  8. What is the recovery like? Generally speaking,  most people do very well after surgery. Most people are sore for a few days after the surgery, and you have to use common sense because you still have stitches in. This means you can’t soak in a hot tub or take a long bath or do the dishes. However, and once the stitches are out, most people go on with their normal lives. 
  9. When can I return to work? When can I use my hand without restrictions at work? That depends a lot on what kind of work you do. If you have a job that doesn’t require a lot of use of your hand, let’s say something like an administrative assistant or a job that requires you to use a computer, then many times, the patient can return to work on the Monday after having surgery on a Friday. However if you have a high demand job that requires constant use of your hands, you may need a couple weeks off before you go back to full duty. It’s also possible that you might need a month if you do very extremely demanding job. However,  this depends on the individual. It also depends on your boss and if you will be allowed to go back to a modified or light duty. I encourage all patients to talk with their boss before they have the surgery to determine what’s best for them. I also encourage people, if they have the ability to take a month or six weeks off, to do that and let their body heal for the maximum time possible.
  10. When can I swim or go in a hot tub? Once the stitches are out, a determination will be made on the stability of the world. It may take another week to 10 days before you can go back swimming or sit in the hot tub. That means the total time might be three weeks. 
  11. Do I need therapy? The vast majority of patients, meaning 95 to 99%, do not need therapy after carpal tunnel surgery. However, if you persistent pain after the surgery as a result of advanced carpal tunnel or scar tissue build up, also known as pillar pain, then you might need therapy. 
  12. I have pain in my wrist and it has been a month, what should I do? With any carpal tunnel release, including endoscopic, minimally invasive techniques, there is a small chance fo developing pain in the palm due to scar tissue. This is called pillar pain. It is self limiting and is treated with therapy and massage. Our certified hand therapists can get you in quickly and work out the pain in just a few sessions. Nothing is wrong, and you will still have an excellent result.