Do You Have Carpal Tunnel?

About 1 in 12 Americans will have some form of carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel is a painful condition that reduces the use of the hands. The condition happens due to inflammation of a sheath of tissue called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve passes through this tunnel and branches out to the fingers. The inflamed tunnel presses on this nerve causing pain, numbness, and weakness. Carpal tunnel release surgery and rehab can significantly improve symptoms.

A much-needed release

Carpal tunnel release surgery is the go-to procedure to relieve chronic pain and numbness. The surgery is beneficial if non-surgical treatments fail. Carpal tunnel release is an outpatient procedure, meaning the patient leaves the hospital the same day. The surgeon uses a special scope to view the damage on an external monitor. Using small tools, the surgeon cuts away part of the carpal tunnel pressing on the nerve. The incisions are closed, and the hand is placed in a large bandage and splint to secure the wrist.

Turning to rehab

Carpal tunnel needs additional rehab to reduce pain and improve motion fully. The hand will stay in the bandage for 1-2 weeks while the patient practices pain management. Once the doctor removes the bandage and splint, the rehab process begins. A physical therapist meets with the patient several times per week to manage the rehab process. Rehab is a combination of exercise, pain management, and patient education.

Stretch and strengthen

For the next few weeks, patients will be required to perform a series of stretching and stretching exercises. Stretching exercises improve mobility and flexibility of the wrist and fingers. Typical exercises include wrist extension and wrist flexion. Other simple hand movements help strengthen the tendons in the wrist and fingers. In addition, grip exercises strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve weakness that is common with carpal tunnel. These exercises gradually increase with intensity.

Pain management and wound

The patient may still have stitches and a splint at different points of the rehabilitation process. The incisions also begin to show signs of scarring at this time. The physical therapist will perform techniques to care for the wound. These techniques are shared with the patient for proper wound care at home. Physical therapists also perform massage and other proven techniques to manage pain.

Patient education

As the rehab process comes to a close, patient education becomes essential. The goal is not only to improve symptoms but to prevent a relapse. For example, the physical therapist can teach patients on proper wrist positioning and strategies to minimize pain. These strategies will also help prevent overuse and the resulting inflammation. The therapist can also review the patient’s workplace to make further recommendations if necessary.

The end of the tunnel

With surgery and rehab, recovery can take up to 2 months. At this point, patients feel less pain and weakness, and have more mobility. Carpal tunnel has a fantastic success rate of up to 90%. However, this success is dependent on a smooth rehab program. The surgery and rehab combine to give patients a new lease on life.