After carpal tunnel release, the surgical site will be covered with a light bandage and patients can return home after a short recovery period. Patients also may receive a splint to keep the wrist immobile.

The bandage will need to stay on and be kept clean and dry for about a week. Patients can ask the nurses tips for keeping the bandage dry before leaving on the day of your procedure. Elevation is key to reduce swelling and discomfort. Patients may also be instructed to do finger exercises to prevent stiffness and promote circulation.

Patients can make recovery easier and more convenient by doing the following:

  • Wearing slip-on shoes and loose-fitting clothing that’s easy to get on and off
  • Having microwave or prepared-in-advance meals on hand
  • Setting up the audio and speaker functions on their phone or other electronics, so they can be used with minimal involvement of the keyboard or mouse

While most people take time off from work for this surgery, patients with sedentary or desk jobs that don’t require heavy lifting or labor can often return to work within days of the procedure.


Managing Post-Surgical Pain

Some of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are eased immediately by surgery. There will be some pain from the surgery itself but this pain is usually mild to moderate and temporary. Surgical pain can be managed in many ways: elevation, ice therapy, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and prescription-strength pain medication.

See Distinctive Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

Most patients do not require opioid (narcotic) medications and those who do usually use them less than three days following the surgery. These medications can cause side effects and dependency, so they must be taken as directed by the patient’s physician. When taking over-the-counter medications, patients need to be careful not to exceed the daily recommended dose.

Once the surgical anesthesia wears off, patients can start using the strategies above to manage discomfort. An ice pack can be applied to the site for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day. In addition to combating inflammation, cold therapy decreases pain by suppressing pain signals to the brain.


Watch for Signs of Infection

It is normal for the surgical site to be red and swollen. However, there are some signs that could indicate the site has become infected and patients should contact their physician, such as:

  • Discharge is draining from the bandage or incision
  • The surgical site is red and warm to the touch
  • Lymph nodes are swollen in the neck or underarms
  • The patient has a fever

Dr. Duretti Fufa is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. She has additional expertise in trauma, reconstruction, and microsurgery. Dr. Fufa is interested in global medicine and has traveled to Germany, China, India, Honduras, and Ethiopia on medical exchanges.