The precise timeline for recovering from carpal tunnel surgery is different for each patient, and it depends on several factors. Depending on your age and the cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome, recovery can take longer. Other influences include how well you follow post-surgery instructions, your participation in physical therapy, and the severity of the carpal tunnel before surgery.
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Although everyone’s experience is unique, here are the general milestones to recovering from a successful carpal tunnel release surgery:
Week one – The first week after surgery will be challenging as you adapt to living with wounds from surgery. Your wrists will be kept straight in a splint, and you may experience moderate to severe pain that can be relieved with medication. At the one week mark, you should expect to see the doctor for a follow-up appointment, and they may decide to remove your stitches at this time. Do not remove the bandages or splint until the doctor says it’s okay, and follow their instructions to the best of your ability.
Weeks two and three – You will gradually be able to start using your hand again, and may be able to return to work if the doctor approves. Patients that use their wrists for strenuous activities at work may not be ready to resume their positions yet, and you should take it easy until your wounds have fully healed. By this stage, pain in the hands should be significantly less, although some may still exist. You should massage the surgical scar with oils that reduce scar tissue and encourage the body to heal. You may resume driving and taking care of yourself, and your doctor may allow you to start lifting light-weight objects. You should still consider using the splint to reinforce the wrist during this time, even if you feel much better.
Week four – Your fingers should be mobile again, and you will have home exercises to practise regaining your strength. You may still be seeing a physical therapist to restore proper function for all of your fingers.
Weeks six through eight – You should be back to most of your normal activities, and can resume physical exercise. Most patients still experience a slight pain in the center of the palm when they accidentally grip things too tightly or when they press down where the surgery took place. These wounds are still healing deep within the tissue, but the surface will be completely healed. You may notice an improvement in sleep, and the symptoms at night should be less severe. If you choose to sleep without a splint, then you may still experience some numb or tingling sensations in the fingers on occasion.
Six months – Physical therapy may be completed at this time, and you should continue to do your recovery exercises at home to build motor skills and strength. If your carpal tunnel syndrome was severe, then you may want to schedule periodic visits to the physical therapist to review your progress with a professional. At this point, you should still be cautious about straining your wrist. You don’t want to re-injure yourself and have to go through another six months of recovery.
One year – Congratulations. After carpal tunnel release surgery, most patients will have reached their maximum potential for recovery at the one year mark. In more severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, the patient may still choose to be cautious about lifting heavy things. Although surgery will have alleviated most of the symptoms, it is entirely possible that the strength of your grip is limited, and you may have other restrictions. You should focus on your achievement of recovering from carpal tunnel syndrome and celebrate after one year.