Preservation of the Ulnar Bursa Within the Carpal Tunnel: Does It Improve the Outcome of Carpal Tunnel Surgery?
A Randomized, Controlled Trial
D.P. Forward, MRCS; A.K. Singh, MRCSEd; T.M. Lawrence, MRCS; J.S. Sithole, MSc, PhD; T.R.C. Davis, FRCS; J.A. Oni, FRCS


Background: It was hypothesized that preserving a layer of gliding tissue, the parietal layer of the ulnar bursa, between the contents of the carpal tunnel and the soft tissues incised during carpal tunnel surgery might reduce scar pain and improve grip strength and function following open carpal tunnel decompression.

Methods: Patients consented to randomization to treatment with either preservation of the parietal layer of the ulnar bursa beneath the flexor retinaculum at the time of open carpal tunnel decompression (fifty-seven patients) or division of this gliding layer as part of a standard open carpal tunnel decompression (sixty-one patients). Grip strength was measured, scar pain was rated, and the validated Patient Evaluation Measure questionnaire was used to assess symptoms and disability preoperatively and at eight to nine weeks following the surgery in seventy-seven women and thirty-four men; the remaining seven patients were lost to follow-up.

Results: There was no difference between the groups with respect to age, sex, hand dominance, or side of surgery. Grip strength, scar pain, and the Patient Evaluation Measure score were not significantly different between the two groups, although there was a trend toward a poorer subjective outcome as demonstrated by the questionnaire in the group in which the ulnar bursa within the carpal tunnel had been preserved. Preserving the ulnar bursa within the carpal tunnel did, however, result in a lower prevalence of suspected wound infection or inflammation (p = 0.04).

Conclusions: In this group of patients, preservation of the ulnar bursa around the median nerve during open carpal tunnel release produced no significant difference in grip strength or self-rated symptoms. We recommend incision of the ulnar bursa during open carpal tunnel decompression to allow complete visualization of the median nerve and carpal tunnel contents.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.


  • The authors did not receive grants or outside funding in support of their research for or preparation of this manuscript. They did not receive payments or other benefits or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity. No commercial entity paid or directed, or agreed to pay or direct, any benefits to any research fund, foundation, educational institution, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which the authors are affiliated or associated.

  • Investigation performed at the Department of Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery, Queen's Medical Centre, University Hospital, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Enter your JBJS login information below.
Please note that your username is the email address you provided when you registered.

List of OpenAthens registered sites, including contact details.