The Preoperative Cost of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

J Hand Surg Am. 2022 Aug;47(8):752-761.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsa.2021.07.027. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Purpose: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition, with well-defined diagnostic and treatment guidelines. Despite these guidelines, continued variation in care exists, with providers variably using diagnostic tests and nonsurgical treatment modalities prior to surgery. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the variation and cost associated with the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of patients prior to undergoing carpal tunnel release.

Methods: We queried the Truven MarketScan database to identify patients who underwent carpal tunnel release from 2010 to 2017. Patients were identified using common current procedural terminology codes and included if they were enrolled in the database for a minimum of 12 months prior to surgery to allow all preoperative data to be captured. All associated current procedural terminology codes during the 1-year preoperative period were refined to codes related to median neuropathy and categorized as office visits, diagnostic imaging (x-ray, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging), electrodiagnostic testing, injections, occupational or physical therapy, durable medical equipment, and preoperative laboratory tests.

Results: In total, 378,381 patients were included in the study. A per-patient average cost of $858.74 was spent on preoperative workup and nonsurgical treatment. Electrodiagnostic testing represented 44.6% of the cost, and office visits represented 31.9%. Regarding nonsurgical treatment, 16.1% of the patients received an injection during the 1-year preoperative period, 26.8% received a medical brace, and 6.6% used physical therapy. When analyzed based on age group, the per-patient average cost for patients aged 70 years or older was significantly less than those younger than 70 years ($723.92 vs $878.76).

Conclusions: Despite robust clinical practice guidelines and high volumes, significant variation in presurgical care exists. These data are useful to begin to critically analyze the causes of variation in the diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome and move toward a more effective, efficient, and informed treatment strategy.

Type of study/level of evidence: Economic/decision analysis II.

Keywords: Carpal tunnel; cost; preoperative; treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome* / surgery
  • Databases, Factual
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Retrospective Studies