Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel release surgery is a very common operation performed more than 100,000 times in North America every year. What the surgery does is to increase the space in the carpel tunnel so that it no longer puts pressure on the median nerve.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which your median nerve - one of the major nerves that controls the functioning of the hand and fingers - becomes compressed inside a "tunnel" in the wrist.

When you bend your wrist forward or backwards, you make this space smaller. In some people, this tightening can cause pressure or squeezing on the nerve, which causes numbness or tingling in the fingers and hand.

Many people who have carpal tunnel syndrome have symptoms for many years without realizing it. Symptoms tend to appear gradually and include:

  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the hands or wrists.
  • Weakness or clumsiness in the hand.
  • Difficulty performing routine tasks with the hands, such as holding a cup, talking on the phone, or even driving.
  • Pain or numbness in the hand that wakes you up at night.

Often carpal tunnel can be the result of chronic repetitive movements, which is often related to very manual jobs.


Carpal tunnel release is done under local freezing while you are awake. There is a blood pressure cuff on your arm that is inflated during the surgery. The surgery takes about 8 minutes and you can eat and drink before it.


You will need someone to drive you home from the hospital. You can shower 48 hours after surgery. Wound care is simply washing then applying ointment and a light dressing every 1 or 2 days. Dr. MacDonald will see you 10-14 days after surgery to ensure you are healing well.

If you have a very physical job, you should plan to have 4-6 weeks of healing time before you get back to work. If you have a fairly sedentary job, then you may be able to return to work as early as 2-3 weeks after surgery. You need to avoid activities that may increase your blood pressure or require use of your hand other than minimal daily activities such as dressing or feeding yourself.


As in any surgery, risks include infection, scarring, delayed wound healing, bruising or bleeding, incomplete release and recurrence. Complications in this procedure are relatively uncommon but will be discussed further at the time of consultation. The severity of your nerve injury will often determine how much relief you will get from the surgery.