The effects of carpal tunnel syndrome may return after conservative treatments. And while surgery is considered a cure, it’s not always permanently effective.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a type of pressure on the median nerve inside your wrist. Some of the classic symptoms are numbness, tingling, and pain that can extend throughout your hand and fingers and sometimes your arm.

CTS is a relatively common condition, affecting up to 5% of people in the United States. The symptoms usually progress gradually, and you may notice worsening symptoms at night.

Treatment options depend on how severe CTS is. For mild cases, a doctor may recommend home treatments or changes in your activities. Severe CTS may require medical treatment or surgery.

But even with treatment, some people experience recurring CTS. Learn more about why CTS can return and how common this is.

CTS is very common, and it’s estimated that this condition is the cause of about 90% of cases of neuropathy that affect a single nerve.

Carpal tunnel recurrence is less common and is considered rare. Surgery may be necessary for recurring CTS.

If CTS symptoms return shortly after treatment, it might mean the condition was never resolved to begin with. Since CTS causes gradual symptoms that may come and go, it’s possible to mistake symptom improvement as a sign that the condition has gone away.

CTS symptoms tend to be mild at first but then increase in frequency and severity. This is why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis.

Most people with CTS need medical treatment at some point to help reduce progression and relieve symptoms.

Conservative treatment for CTS may consist of a combination of:

  • wearing a wrist splint at night for up to 6 weeks
  • applying ice packs to reduce pain
  • modifying certain activities, such as typing, playing an instrument, and using power tools
  • performing hand exercises and alternating rest to help increase mobility and reduce pain
  • taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen

If these methods don’t improve your symptoms, a doctor may suggest steroid injections. However, these aren’t considered a cure. After a few months, you may experience recurring CTS symptoms and need another steroid shot.

A doctor might also prescribe oral steroids for 10 to 14 days.

More severe cases of CTS that don’t improve with conservative treatments may require surgery. The procedure, called a carpal tunnel release, involves cutting a thick ligament (tissue) under your skin so that it no longer presses against the median nerve and causes symptoms.

In many cases, surgery is a permanent solution for CTS. Full healing after the procedure may take up to a month, and you may experience minor pain in your hand for several weeks or months.

It’s also possible to experience pain from the surgery itself. This doesn’t always mean that surgery has failed — you might instead be experiencing an increase in circulation returning to the median nerve.

However, in some cases, surgery may not fully correct CTS, leading to chronic symptoms. In these instances, you may need revision surgery.

Yet another possible cause of symptoms after surgery is related to scar tissue that may develop along the carpal tunnel. These symptoms are similar to those of CTS.

What are the symptoms of failed carpal tunnel surgery?

Possible symptoms of failed carpal tunnel surgery are similar to symptoms of CTS. You might notice pain after typing, turning doorknobs, or doing other everyday activities. Numbness and tingling may also return.

Your experience during recovery from carpal tunnel surgery may vary depending on how severe your CTS was to begin with.

If you have mild CTS, you may experience full sensations in your hand after surgery. But if you have more severe CTS, you may not experience relief from numbness and tingling for 6 to 12 months.

It’s also possible to experience permanent nerve damage as a side effect of any type of surgery, including carpal tunnel procedures. Ongoing nerve issues might be the result of new nerve damage rather than a CTS recurrence.

Overall, it’s rare for CTS to return after surgery.

However, some research suggests that up to one-third of people with CTS may experience recurring symptoms, even up to 5 years after treatment. This includes people who previously had carpal tunnel surgery.

Despite these statistics, the outlook for CTS is generally positive as long as the condition is diagnosed and treated early.

If you suspect that you have CTS, consult a doctor for an evaluation. An accurate diagnosis can help a doctor determine the severity of your condition and make the best treatment recommendations possible to help prevent complications.

Also contact a doctor if you’re experiencing worsening CTS symptoms, especially if you’ve had previous treatment for CTS, including surgery.

If you’ve had carpal tunnel surgery and still have weakness or pain in your hand after 2 months, see a doctor for an evaluation. Depending on their findings, they may recommend that you see a hand specialist.

You should also consider getting medical help if a doctor has recommended home treatments and those treatments have not improved your condition. When left untreated, CTS can lead to permanent symptoms due to a loss of nerve function.

It’s not clear whether you can prevent CTS from returning, but you can take steps to support the healing process for a better outcome. Your doctor will instruct you to:

  • wear a splint for several weeks after surgery
  • modify activities that require frequently flexing or extending your hands or wrists
  • use the affected hand for light activities only
  • participate in physical therapy
  • participate in occupational therapy

Whether you’ve recently been treated for CTS or have yet to receive a diagnosis, consider discussing with a doctor the following information about recurring cases of CTS.

What are the causes of recurrent carpal tunnel syndrome?

If you’re still experiencing CTS symptoms after conservative treatment, you may have an underlying condition or risk factor that has not been inadequately addressed. Risk factors for recurrent CTS include:

  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • hypothyroidism
  • vitamin deficiency
  • inflammatory arthritis
  • excessive alcohol use

After surgery, recurrent CTS may develop if the surgery fails to treat the median nerve affected by carpal tunnel. Aside from chronic CTS, recurring symptoms may also be attributed to problems associated with scar tissue development after surgery.

What happens if carpal tunnel comes back?

If CTS returns, you may need follow-up treatments such as steroid injections or an additional surgery. See a doctor as soon as possible if you start experiencing recurring symptoms such as numbness, weakness, and pain.

Does carpal tunnel ever fully go away?

It is possible for CTS to fully go away. In fact, most cases of CTS resolve with treatment. But fully healing from the condition can still take several months.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common condition associated with many risk factors. In more mild cases, conservative treatments might help with healing. But in severe or chronic cases, surgery may be necessary.

Treatment of CTS should involve addressing underlying risk factors. Mild to moderate symptoms are more likely to improve. Severe symptoms that require surgery may recur years later.

If you have a history of CTS and are experiencing symptoms after treatment, see a doctor for a follow-up.