Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

I'm trying to decide if I should have carpal tunnel surgery or not. I use my hands for lots of things like knitting, crocheting, keyboarding, gardening, and canning my garden veggies. I'm having more and more trouble with these activities. But I don't want surgery! What do I do?

Answer:

See a surgeon and find out what are your options. There are conservative (nonoperative) ways to treat carpal tunnel. A hand therapist (physical or occupational therapist) can help you learn to modify activities to prevent compression and reduce stress on the nerve. There are tendon and nerve gliding exercises that can help decrease or eliminate symptoms. Splinting to hold the wrist and hand in a protected position is another way to approach the problem. Sometimes a six-to-eight week course of therapy is enough to make you functional once again and restore your quality of life. Some patients even obtain complete relief from their symptoms. Most doctors suggest giving it a full three months before considering surgery. And there are some suggested guidelines for who should have surgery. These include: 1) numbness in the hand and/or fingers for more than three months, 2) pain, numbness, and/or tingling that wakes you up at night, and 3) no change with splinting. The surgeon also uses the results of some clinical tests in the clinical decision-making process. These tests stress the nerve and potentially reproduce your symptoms. Sometimes nerve compression tests using electrodiagnostic methods are ordered. This gives your physician an idea of just how damaged is the nerve. This information can help guide the timing of surgery. If you've already tried all these things with no success, then surgery may be the next best step. Today's minimally invasive techniques give good results and fast recovery times. Let your surgeon know of your concerns and find out more about all your options. W. P. Andrew Lee, MD, et al. 13-Year Experience of Carpal Tunnel Release Using the Indiana Tome Technique. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. September 2008. Vol. 33A. No. 7. Pp. 1052-1056.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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