Carpal Tunnel Surgery – “Do I Need It”?

Carpal Surgery © by daveparker

Most people realize that they have carpal tunnel after they’ve had symptoms for quite a while. This is mainly because you probably don’t pay any attention to the little aches and pains you have everyday. “…they’ll just go away after a few days.”

It’s not until later when the numbness is keeping you up at night, or, you’re having a hard time starting your car or turning a door knob that it actually dawns on you “hey, something’s wrong…”

By the time you really start having constant pain, numbness and weakness in your hands, it’s really time to see a doctor ASAP! If you let these symptoms keep building up you may end up with permanent nerve damage in your hand(s).

“Doc, Do I Need Carpal Tunnel Surgery?”

When you get into see your doctor, there’s a couple of pretty “quick and dirty” tests that they can do to get a better idea of what’s going on in your wrists. One is called the “Phalen’s Test” and the other is “Tinel’s Sign”.

If your doctor thinks that you may have carpal tunnel, they’ll probably get you scheduled for an EMG (electromyogram) test. This test actually measures the nerve conduction to the muscle. It lets the doctor know if the nerve is getting compressed from carpal tunnel syndrome. Most of the time, the tests are pretty accurate. But, sometimes you may need a second test.

But just having a positive test won’t answer the question of  “do I need carpal tunnel surgery?“.  It depends on how bad the condition of the nerve is, and, it depends on how bad your symptoms are.

For most doctors these days, surgery is a last resort. If your symptoms are not totally disabling, most doctors will want to treat the problem “conservatively”. This just means that they want to “exhaust” all other options before they have to cut on you. Most doctors will want you to go to hand therapy and wear splints for a while to see if the symptoms calm down and resolve on their own.

Going through the conservative approach can actually be sometimes a lot better than having to go through the rehab for therapy. Most people want to get the surgery as soon as possible because they think that it will be a quick fix. But, that’s not the case.

Although surgery does relieve a lot of the symptoms, there is still a rehab process after the surgery. And, that can take a while to get you back up to speed.

So, to answer your question about whether you need carpal tunnel surgery or not, that really depends on what you doctor finds during the tests. You may or may not have carpal tunnel. There may be something else that’s causing you your problems.

“What Can You Do In The Mean Time?”

Question: So, what can you do in the mean time while you’re waiting to see your doctor or even waiting for surgery?

Answer: Start icing your wrists and forearms (see this article). And, gently stretch (See here)

Most hand therapy sessions start off with these two things to reduce the symptoms of the carpal tunnel syndrome. The icing will help you decrease the swelling and pain in the wrists and hands and the stretching should loosen up your hands.

Sitting and waiting to find out the results of medical tests can sometimes be a pain in the you-know-what. But, doing these simple things can give you the satisfaction that  you’re not just sitting around. You’re getting something done and doing something productive.

Who knows, if may just be the thing you need.


“Do I need carpal tunnel surgery?”

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