Recovery After Carpal Tunnel Release: What to Expect

  • Wrist Exam
    Know what’s ahead during your carpal tunnel release recovery.
    Your doctor can perform carpal tunnel release as an open surgery or with endoscopic (minimally invasive) techniques. Carpal tunnel release recovery can be faster with endoscopy, but there are some common challenges to either type of surgery.

  • Nurse Changing Wrist Bandage
    You’ll notice some symptom relief right away.
    Your goals during recovery are to manage your symptoms and regain pain-free wrist strength and function. Many people experience improved symptoms soon after surgery. It can take 2 to 6 months to see improvements in grip and pinch strength. And full recovery can take up to a year. Talk with your doctor from the beginning about the best strategies for reaching these goals and what to expect. Also, find out when to contact your doctor if your weakness and pain don’t improve.

  • Pain Medication
    You will have new, short-term symptoms like swelling and stiffness.
    Some swelling and stiffness are common after surgery. You can minimize this by elevating your hand above your heart and moving your fingers frequently for the first couple of days. Pain is also common, but tends to resolve more quickly after endoscopic surgery. Controlling pain is key because it helps you complete rehabilitation and recover. So you will likely go home on a narcotic pain reliever. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve).

  • woman getting physical therapy for her wrist
    You’ll have physical therapy and may wear a carpal tunnel brace.
    Some form of rehabilitation is common after carpal tunnel release surgeries. This may include physical and occupational therapy. You will also likely wear a wrist brace—a carpal tunnel brace—for a few weeks after surgery. Initially, therapy will focus on range-of-motion exercises for your wrist. Eventually, it will include strengthening exercises and scar management. These activities can be painful at first. Talk with your doctor or therapist about managing the pain so you can reach your recovery goals.

  • Using Laptop With Carpal Tunnel
    At first, you’ll use your hand for light, everyday activities.
    Returning to normal activities can take several weeks to months. Doctors usually encourage using your hand as normally as possible. This includes things like using a fork, brushing your teeth, and light typing. You should avoid lifting things with that wrist for about six weeks. Follow all instructions for wearing your brace, using your wrist, and lifting things. Doing too much too fast can cause problems. Ask your doctor when it’s safe to return to daily activities, driving, work, and sports or other leisure activities.

  • Washing Dishes using gloves
    Your wound will heal in about two weeks with proper care.
    Follow all instructions for covering and dressing the wound, keeping it dry, and showering. Avoid soaking the wound—bathtubs, swimming pools, and hot tubs—until your doctor clears it. Use a pair of rubber gloves to wash dishes. At the end of two weeks, your doctor will remove your stitches. Be sure to call your doctor if your wound is red, swollen, warm, draining excess fluid, bleeding, or starting to open.

  • Man with Wrist Pain
    Your doctor will discuss possible complications and how to minimize them.
    It’s important to be aware of possible complications while your wrist heals so you can tell your doctor. Call your doctor right away if you have fever, numbness, tingling, more swelling than expected, or increased pain. These could be signs of a complication. Scar pain and persistent weakness can also occur. Talk with your doctor if your symptoms are not going away or return after your wrist heals. You may need to work with a hand therapist to fully recover.

  • Wrist Pain and Computer Mouse
    Your therapist will teach you safe ways to use your wrist.
    It’s possible for carpal tunnel syndrome to happen again and require more surgery. Your physical or occupational therapist can show you strategies to help prevent this. Your therapist will teach you safe ways to use your wrist and exercises to strengthen it. It may also be necessary to change the way you work or how you position your wrist while you work. Wearing a carpal tunnel brace may also protect your wrist. Following your therapist’s tips for reducing stress on your wrist can help you avoid future problems with carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Woman in Golf Cart
    For the best recovery, start slow and don’t do too much too fast.
    An ideal carpal tunnel release recovery is one that returns your wrist strength and function without pain. Most people can achieve this. Remember to start slow and go slow. Putting too much stress on your wrist too soon can cause problems. And if you feel pain with an activity, it’s time to rest. Your doctor will check your progress as your wrist heals. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and be sure to call your doctor with any concerns.

What to Expect During Carpal Tunnel Release Recovery
Carpal Tunnel Surgery

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 

  1. Carpal Tunnel Release (Endoscopic or Open). Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. http://www.bidmc.org/Centers-and-Departments/Departments/Orthopaedic-Surgery/Services-and-Programs/H...

  2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00005

  3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 4
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