When Is Surgery Needed for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

You’re experiencing pain in your thumb and some of your fingers. Sometimes you feel a tingling sensation. Hand pain makes normal daily tasks more difficult. Everyday motions such as buttoning a shirt and flossing your teeth become frustrating because of the discomfort. 

You may have carpal tunnel syndrome. If so, you’ve irritated your median nerve. It runs from your upper arm down to and through your wrist in the carpal tunnel passage and out to your fingers and thumb. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Shults with Coastal Empire Orthopedics, treats many patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and helps relieve the pain that comes with it. 

When diagnosed early, carpal tunnel can usually be treated with conservative methods. However, some cases of carpal tunnel syndrome require surgery. Unless your pain is severe and has been for some time, Dr. Shults recommends trying conservative therapies first before you consider surgery. 

What are nonsurgical methods for treating carpal tunnel syndrome?

Following are our conservative methods for treating carpal tunnel pain. 

Wrist splint

A wrist splint helps rest your thumb and fingers and hold them in a neutral position at night so that you don’t stress your hand while you sleep. The splint should lessen your nighttime symptoms and even help during the day. You can also wear the splint some part of the day, especially if you’re using repetitive motions that inflame the nerve. 


Temporary use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help reduce your pain. Don’t use these drugs over a longer period because they can cause organ damage.    


Dr. Shults can administer a steroid injection into the carpal tunnel if you’re experiencing a significant amount of pain that interferes with your daily life. It reduces inflammation and pressure on the irritated median nerve. 

Lifestyle changes 

You have a role to play in keeping carpal tunnel syndrome at bay. Repetitive motions have likely led to irritation of your median nerve. 

It’s important to try to change some habits that have led you to this point to speed healing and prevent future attacks. 

Resting your hand is essential. We can provide a doctor’s note so that you can temporarily rest the wrist and hand to let the inflammation subside. We can also recommend and document helpful adaptations in your workplace. 

Take frequent breaks from repetitive motions. Set a timer so that you don’t sit at the computer for hours without resting your hands and wrists. 

Try to keep your wrists in a relaxed, neutral position. Ergonomics are essential to protecting your wrists when using a computer. Your forearms should be at a 90-degree angle to your shoulders, and your wrists should be lightly resting on the keyboard in a neutral position. Your wrist shouldn’t be bent upward or downward. Many patients use split or curved keyboards, which relieve pressure on their hands and wrists. 

We provide gentle hand and wrist stretching exercises. Start slowly and make the stretches a part of your normal daily routine. 

When should I consider carpal tunnel surgery? 

It’s time to look at surgery as the best option if all of the conservative methods haven’t worked and you still have troubling symptoms, including pain, numbness, and tingling. You may have trouble grasping objects when necessary. When the symptoms interfere with your work to the point that you can’t really accomplish the intended task or can only accomplish it with difficulty, it’s time to consider surgery.

Don’t let carpal tunnel symptoms get out of hand. If they’re treated in an early stage, they will ease more quickly. 

If you have only minimal damage, the surgery is a fairly simple endoscopic procedure. We make a small incision and release a ligament that relieves pressure on your median nerve. At the end of the surgery, we wrap your wrist in a bandage. We remove your stitches in a couple of weeks. 

You should definitely rest the hand and wrist for a few weeks after surgery and avoid lifting heavy objects. A few days after surgery, you’ll likely start doing gentle exercises for your fingers to prevent stiffness. 

If the strain on your hand is minor, you should be able to return to work in a couple of weeks. However, if you use your hands all or most of the time for your job, you may need 4 or 5 weeks of recuperation. 

Call Coastal Empire Orthopedics or book an appointment online today if you have unexplained hand or wrist pain.

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