Hand surgery can be a scary thing to face, especially when it comes to the unknowns of post-op expectations. A great way to ease your mind is by doing some research so you can prepare yourself for what will happen after you have hand surgery. Here is a simple breakdown of what you can expect right after the surgery, the general overall healing time, wound care, and ways to help get back to your normal daily life.
Usually immediately following a hand surgery there will be a time period during which your hand will be entirely immobile, determined by your doctor on a case by case basis. During this time your hand and wrist will likely be bandaged up, or in some form of a splint to promote immobility. In addition, your doctor will likely ask you to limit or restrict too much activity or going back to work right away. With some procedures, immediate movement of your fingers and some activity is beneficial, and your doctor will instruct you if that is something beneficial for your recovery (for example, after a carpal tunnel or trigger finger surgery).
The general healing time following surgery differs for various conditions, but there are some standard ways to ease the healing process. Elevating your arm and hand can help reduce pain and swelling. The best way to do this is by raising it above the level of your heart for the first few days. If the swelling does not cease, continue the elevation and consult your doctor. Remember to fill any pain prescriptions from your doctor, and begin taking them as soon as possible! Waiting until the previous medication wears off will only cause you further unnecessary pain. Most wounds heal completely, allowing suture removal at 7-12 days. For some procedures where the incision crosses a large joint (like in an elbow surgery), sutures may be left in for up to 14 days.
The most important thing about wound care is keeping your dressings clean and dry. This means changing them as often as instructed by your doctor whether you feel it is necessary or not. Keeping it dry is also crucial in reducing your chance of infections. If you need to bathe, cover the area with some form of plastic and try to keep it out of reach of direct water contact. With some procedures involving relatively small incisions (carpal tunnel release or a trigger finger release), your physician may allow you to completely remove the bandages at 3-4 days and get the wound slightly wet in a shower, with it remaining dry at other times. If your wound becomes red, slightly warm and inflamed, you should contact your doctor immediately to rule out the possibility of an infection, which in hand surgery is quite rare.
A great way to promote fast healing involves various forms of hand therapy. This includes different performing different exercises, massage therapy, and heat therapy. Therapists also often utilize splinting and bandages as well to control the amount of movement in the hand and wrist as another form of therapy. This allows them to have total control over the process of gaining your normal mobility back safely and effectively.
Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss is the R. Scot Sellers Scholar of Hand Surgery; Chief of Hand Surgery; Vice Chairman & Professor, Brown University.