Exact recovery timelines can vary widely for those who have a carpal tunnel release surgery.
Factors that can influence the speed of recovery include:
- Patient age and other health factors
- The severity of carpal tunnel syndrome prior to surgery
- The ability of the patient to follow post-surgical care guidelines
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In general, these are the milestones that patients can expect with carpal tunnel release:
About 1 week after surgery: The bandage and stitches are removed. Patients may be referred to physical therapy to improve stiffness and restore range of motion.
Weeks 2-4: Patients gradually resume activity in the affected hand. Return to work is based on the type of work required—patients with sedentary or desk jobs that don’t require heavy lifting or labor can often return to work. Patients can expect gradually decreasing pain in the palm and soreness to touch. Massaging the scar with lotion helps decrease this discomfort and softens the area of the scar.
Driving, self-care activities, typing, and light lifting and gripping are permitted around this time. A splint may be used occasionally during this time to take pressure off the wrist and alleviate pain.
4 weeks: Patients should regain full mobility of the digits by this time or should be working with a therapist to regain mobility.
6 to 8 weeks: Patients should be back to nearly full daily life and sporting activities, but still will feel some soreness in the palm to deep pressure or touch. Nighttime symptoms improve, but there may still be some numbness in the fingers.
1 year: By this point, most patients will have received all the benefits of their carpal tunnel release surgery. Patients who had severe or chronic median nerve damage, pinched nerves in the neck, or wasting of muscles prior to surgery may continue to have limits in hand function and strength even after surgery.
Carpal tunnel release surgery is a low-risk procedure with high success in quickly relieving nighttime and neurological symptoms. Numbness, coordination, and strength in the hand gradually improves over several weeks and months and may improve up to or beyond a year from the surgery.