Topographical Assessment of Symptom Resolution Following Open Carpal Tunnel Release

John C. Elfar, Ryan P. Calfee, Peter J. Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome commonly present with paresthesias and pain extending into the small finger and proximal to the hand. This study was conducted to assess the ability of carpal tunnel release to relieve symptoms outside of the median nerve distribution. Methods: We enrolled 34 consecutive surgical patients (40 wrists) diagnosed exclusively with carpal tunnel syndrome based on the history, physical examination, and electrodiagnostic studies. Preoperative symptoms were categorized as pain, numbness, tingling, or "burning and electrical shocks." The presence or absence of each symptom type was recorded in 5 topographical areas (zone I, palmar thumb/index/long; zone II, small finger; zone III, volar forearm; zone IV, volar arm; and zone V, dorsal hand/forearm/arm). Patients were contacted at 4 to 6 weeks postoperatively to assess resolution of each symptom type by topographic zone. Results: Preoperatively, the cohort reported symptoms in all zones: zone I, 120 reports; zone II, 47 reports; zone III, 33 reports; zone IV, 7 reports; and zone V, 23 reports. Numbness (n = 40) and tingling (n = 38) were the most common symptoms, followed by pain (n = 29) and "burning/shocks" (n = 16). Postoperatively, the total number of reports within the 5 zones decreased from 230 to 20. The probability that surgery would eliminate patient symptoms was 88% (104 of 120) in zone I, 96% (45 of 47) in zone II, 97% (32 of 33) in zone III, 86% (6 of 7) in zone 4, and 100% (23 of 23) in zone V. Across zones, the overall probability of symptom resolution was as follows: pain > 80%, numbness/tingling > 85%, and "burning/shocks" > 90%. Conclusions: Symptoms experienced outside of the median nerve distribution had a high likelihood of resolution after carpal tunnel release. Over 85% of symptoms in each of the anatomic zones studied resolved. Feelings of burning or shock-like sensations were most reliably relieved at early follow-up. Type of study/level of evidence: Therapeutic IV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1188-1192
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Carpal tunnel
  • resolution
  • surgery
  • symptoms
  • topographical


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