Carpal tunnel syndrome is a group of symptoms in the hand characterized by early-on numbness and tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and half of the ring finger (the half on the thumb side). In more advanced situations, movement of the thumb can be affected. Usually the problems are more noticeable at night but they can occur anytime.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the main nerve crossing the wrist (the median nerve). There are multiple possible reasons for the pressure but most of the time we are not sure of the exact cause of the compression.
The first treatment usually offered is a splint which is worn at night. Altering your daytime activities can also help alleviate the problem. Once in a while, steroid injections are used.
A carpal tunnel release is the mainstay of treatment. During the procedure, a band (transverse carpal ligament) that runs over the nerve is released. The pressure on the nerve is then reduced. The procedure takes 10 minutes or so and is usually done with local anesthesia so that the patient remains awake. The usual incision is about 3-4 cm long in the palm, close to the wrist. A carpal tunnel release can also be done with an endoscope in the main operating room but this is less common.
Most people can use their hand quite well after 10-14 days. However, everyone recovers at their own rate. It takes about 6-8 weeks for the hand to become "normal." Physiotherapy is sometimes required afterwards.
As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of infection. Problems with the skin pulling open after surgery can be seen in rare patients but usually the hand heals without further surgery. It takes a variable amount of time for the numbness and tingling to go away; this commonly varies with the severity of the initial problem. Your surgeon will discuss other possible complications at the time of your consultation.