Hand therapy often overlooked in treating carpal tunnel syndrome

Your Health Matters

Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common injuries an individual can sustain to their upper extremity. Specialists at Meritus Total Rehab Care are available to offer hand and upper extremity rehabilitation therapies to help those recovering from surgery for this injury.

What actually happens during carpal tunnel syndrome?

According to Ryan C. Adams, MOT, OTR/L, CLT, hand and upper extremity rehabilitation specialist at Meritus Total Rehab Care, the injury occurs as a result of median nerve compression in the wrist and often results in symptoms that are consistent with numbness and tingling into the thumb, index, middle and sometimes ring fingers. Often these symptoms will also result in decreased grip strength and inability to hold objects without dropping them.

“Typically, this condition is treated conservatively, with bracing and activity modification; however, if symptoms are severe or do not respond well to conservative treatment, carpal tunnel release surgery may be recommended,” Adams says.

Don’t overlook hand therapy

Adams says that though hand therapy is a common conservative treatment option, the benefits of this service are often overlooked following surgery. As a result, patients may experience increased pain, hand stiffness and longer recovery times that could have been avoided.

Following carpal tunnel release surgery, the patient should follow a protocol recommended by their surgeon. Although protocols can be personalized, typically they include splint wear/care, specific exercises, desensitization recommendations, scar management and return to daily activities.

“These important phases of recovery are often misunderstood or neglected, resulting in complications that include pain and increased length of recovery,” Adams says.

According to a 2016 retrospective case study, it was reported that members of the American Society of Surgeons of the Hand revealed that only 12% of surgeons routinely prescribed hand therapy after carpal tunnel release surgery. In that same literature review, it was also determined that patients who had a minimum of one hand therapy visit, had increased function of the hand coupled with a lower risk of palm pain. Therefore, the study determined that hand therapy is essential in providing the best level of care for patients who require carpal tunnel release surgery.

What does recovery look like?

Although patients have routine post-op visits scheduled with their surgeon, the recovery timeline after carpal tunnel release surgery is not always exact. The surgery protocol will typically lift most restrictions following the six-week post-operative mark, but patients may experience symptoms many months after this.

“Receiving a hand therapy evaluation within the first two weeks of surgery provides the patient with the opportunity to ask questions or address concerns that may not have been preconceived,” Adams says. “It additionally allows a trained therapist, who specializes in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation, to accurately monitor the patient’s recovery and establish direct communication with the surgeon if any immediate concerns arise.”

Adams believes that through this form of preventative care, the patient and the surgeon have a greater chance of a successful outcome.

“If you or a family member are anticipating carpal tunnel surgery, consider the benefits of receiving immediate outpatient hand therapy services for post-operative treatment,” Adams says.

Learn more about hand, upper extremity and other unique rehabilitation services available at Meritus Total Rehab Care at