This is being written for the consideration of anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and is contemplating carpal tunnel surgery. I wish I had been provided this information when I was deciding to get the work done. Please do not think I’m complaining or looking for sympathy. I’m not. Merely trying to inform people about my experiences.
I first noticed the problem about seven years ago when my hands fell asleep every time I sat and tried to use them for things like crafts or writing. It got so bad that they felt numb and tingly nearly all the time. The doctor diagnosed me with carpal tunnel syndrome and recommended surgery. She said if I didn’t get the issue corrected my hands would become damaged over time since the nerves were being impinged. To relieve the pressure, the tendon that supports the wrist bones must be cut. That is the surgical procedure. It is done under general anesthesia.
What the doctor explained about the narrowing of the carpal tunnel in the wrist and the squeezing of the nerve that must pass through the tunnel to reach the hand made sense. I believed her and didn’t put any effort into second opinions. The surgery was scheduled with a specialist. I had both wrists done at the same time, bi-lateral surgery. The procedure was conducted as a day surgery and I went home that evening with both wrists bandaged.
The pain was fairly intense for a few days. For anyone getting bi-lateral surgery for the sake of convenience, consider that you will find it nearly impossible to use your hands with any force for several days following surgery. The problem becomes apparent when you enter the restroom. I struggled until I adopted through trial and error a technique for hygiene that placed little strain on the hands. The healing was rapid and I only needed to use a couple Tylenol 3 during recovery. The tiny incision scars quickly disappeared.
When it no longer hurt to use the hands, I began physical therapy to return the strength of my grip. The therapist tested my grip and prescribed various exercises which I followed religiously. I was motivated to regain the use of my hands. By the end of the sessions the therapist was impressed that I had a grip strength that surpassed most women. She was pleased with my progress and ended the sessions. What I didn’t tell her was my grip was actually reduced from the power I had before surgery. I continued the exercises and hoped for the best.
Things went along fairly smoothly. My sense of how hard I gripped things had changed. I thought my hands were holding tightly enough, but actually, at times, they were not. I dropped stuff…a lot. It was frustrating. Hoping for the best, I figured over time I’d improve. Then one day I was just lifting an empty five gallon bucket by the handle and something popped in my wrist. It was quite painful. A swelling developed in the area below the base of my thumb. The place of the swelling can be seen in my two photos, although the swelling from an active injury is much more pronounced. These photos are of the usual condition of my wrists now. The little lump below the thumb should not be there.
The doctor said I had sprained my wrist. I wore a splint to protect the area and tried not to overuse the other hand while the sprain healed. Unfortunately, sprains in both wrists have become a part of my life. When I do heavy manual labor I must wear restrictive splints with metal supports or I risk sprains. Just everyday living can result in injury. A movement as simple as wiping a dish, opening a drawer or lifting a cup can result in a strain or a sprain. The reduced sense of grip has remained and I continue to drop items if I don’t remember to pay attention to how tightly I am holding them. I described these difficulties to my doctor and she had nothing to say, she just glossed over my concerns. I changed doctors.
The problem is the cutting of the tendon that supports the wrist. Without that band of tissue to keep the bones in place under strain, ligaments are stressed until micro tears occur, pulling the ligament away from the bone (a sprain.) This is the dirty little secret the doctors and surgeons don’t mention when they push for carpal tunnel surgery. You are left to discover on your own that your hands will never be the same. Sure, the pins and needles and numbness are gone, but the pain of wrist sprains is there to stay. Because I live on a farm and use my hands for everything I do, the chronic pain has settled into the area of the base of my thumbs on both hands.
The only relief for this pain is massage, which I perform on my hands frequently. Since the time of my surgery, I have been a patient of two different massage therapists who both informed me that prior to surgery I should have tried massage therapy. They both explained that the pressure in my wrists leading to my hands falling asleep could very likely have been relived with trigger point therapy. The tightening of muscles in the neck, shoulder and arms can lead to the symptoms of carpal tunnel impingement. They told me many people have found a cure for the problem from massage therapy alone. If only one of the medical doctors had informed me of this! Or if only I had not been so trusting of their authority and opinions.
Now, whenever anyone mentions to me they are considering the surgery, I describe my experiences for them in the hope they can make a better informed decision than I.