Background: Compared with the open technique, endoscopic carpal tunnel release has a shorter postoperative recovery period but has been associated with an increased risk of iatrogenic injury. Because of morbidity of the open method, including painful scars, pillar pain, tendon adhesions, scar entrapment of the median nerve, chronic regional pain syndrome, and a longer postoperative recovery period, many patients have been treated nonoperatively to circumvent or forestall surgery, resulting in unrelieved median nerve compression and an increased risk of permanent nerve injury.
Methods: Inclusion criteria included a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome based on history and physical examination and electrodiagnostic studies; failure of a short trial of conservative therapy; and advanced disease as evidenced by sensory, motor, or atrophic changes in the median nerve distribution. Exclusion criteria included prior surgery, wrist extension of less [corrected] than 40 degrees, mass within the carpal tunnel, Guyon's syndrome, and bony carpal tunnel abnormalities. Patients meeting these criteria were treated by the Brown two-portal endoscopic technique.
Results: A total of 14,722 patients were treated with the Brown endoscopic procedure. Eleven patients (0.07 percent) required conversion to an open procedure. There was one iatrogenic injury. Postoperative results were inversely related to the severity of the preoperative electrodiagnostic studies and the duration of symptoms regardless of the method of nonoperative treatment given.
Conclusions: Operative decompression should be carried out promptly if symptoms have been present for 2 months or longer, as the occurrence of permanent nerve damage has been noted within this time frame. The authors advocate use of the two-portal endoscopic technique as previously described by Brown et al. for this purpose.