Carpal Tunnel Surgery

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where the tissues of a narrow passageway in the wrist become swollen and press on a nerve that runs into the hand. This nerve is responsible for sensation in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. Pressure on this nerve can cause pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the hand. Eventually, if the cause isn’t addressed, loss of sensation to the hand can become permanent and the ability to control the movement in your hand will lessen.

One or both hands can be affected. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms usually begin gradually. Carpal tunnel surgery is recommended when initial management of the symptoms no longer provides relief.


Who is carpal tunnel surgery for?

The reasons for considering carpal tunnel surgery will be determined by the effect the syndrome has on your everyday life. Some of them may include:

  • Discomfort from burning, tingling pins and needles-like sensations to the hand and fingers.
  • Stiff and swollen joints and/or fingers, making some activities difficult.
  • Weakened grip or ability to hold small items.
  • Waking at night having to shake your hands to lessen pain, tingling or numbness.

Pain in the hand and fingers 

  • Can be constant or occasional.
  • Is usually worse when hand used frequently.
  • May be worse at night.
  • Can shoot up the arm and into the shoulder.


What happens?

Before surgery

The first step is to make an appointment to see Dr McMillan.

You will meet Dr McMillan at his private rooms in Fernbrae House, Dunedin or in Invercargill to review your carpal tunnel and discuss the best surgical options. This is an important step; not only gaining an understanding of the expected surgical outcomes but also developing your relationship with Dr McMillan as you work together to establish better function for your hand(s).

During the discussion with Dr McMillan you will work together to decide if this surgery is right for you. This may involve having some further tests like nerve conduction studies. You will discuss whether your surgery can be done at Fernbrae House under local anaesthetic, or if your surgery needs to be done at Mercy Hospital under either local or general anaesthetic. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, you will also decide if the surgeries will be done at the same time, or different times.

Once you have decided on what is to be done, a date will be booked for you at either Fernbrae House or Mercy Hospital, Dunedin for your carpal tunnel surgery.

During surgery

Regardless of whether it is under local or general anaesthetic the main purpose of carpal tunnel surgery is to cut the ligaments around the narrowed carpal tunnel and release the trapped nerve.

Once the hand is numbed, or you are asleep, the carpal tunnel surgery will begin. A short cut will be made in the palm of your hand near the wrist to access the area and release the trapped nerve.

If you’re having a local anaesthetic you will be able to have a chat with the team while they work.

Once the surgery is complete sutures will be placed along the short incision line.

Dressings will be placed over the suture lines and your hand will be wrapped in a bandage.

Recovery process

Carpal tunnel surgery is a day surgery procedure. You will not need to stay overnight.

Some relief of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome should be felt immediately after surgery, others may take longer.

Skin healing takes place over the first week and you may experience some discomfort and tenderness around the surgery area.

To assist in the swift recovery, it is important to have physiotherapy for your hand after carpal tunnel surgery to improve movement and reduce stiffness.


Expected outcome

It is not uncommon for there to be pain, stiffness and swelling for about a month after surgery. This will fade over time and the ability to use your hand properly will return.

If the carpal tunnel syndrome is quite advanced then there may still be some numbness in the fingers, but over time this should reduce.

Full grip and strength to your hand is expected to return about 2-3 months after carpal tunnel surgery. In some cases, it can take up to a year to fully recover.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable and you should see a good outcome from this surgery in the long term.


Risks and complications

As with all surgical procedures there are risks and potential complications with carpal tunnel surgery. Dr McMillan will discuss all of these with you during your consultation and answer all of your questions.



There is a cost to having carpal tunnel surgery done privately. The exact figure will depend on a range of factors but generally the cost is between $1,800 and $2,300.


Contact us

If you have carpal tunnel syndrome start the journey to better function for you and your hand; get in contact to make an initial consultation with Dr McMillan about surgical treatment.

Dr Will McMillan Plastic Surgery in Dunedin

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