Postoperative Care

  • Sling instructions. The sling is used for your comfort and to assist with elevating the arm. Sometimes with elbow surgery it is difficult to wear the sling or you may not be comfortable in a sling. It is important to elevate your hand above your elbow and your elbow above your shoulder.
  • Diet. We recommend that you eat a light diet the evening of surgery and the next day but you may resume eating a regular diet as soon as you tolerate it.
  • Pain control. When you are discharged from the hospital you will be given a prescription for pain medicine. You may take this medicine as prescribed. You will be given the option to purchase a cold pack machine. This machine has a sleeve which is attached to an ice cooler. You place ice and some water in the cooler and plug this in to a regular outlet. This circulates cold water through the shoulder sleeve providing relief of pain and swelling after surgery. You should keep ice on the elbow frequently for the first 48-72 hours after surgery. We recommend icing 2-3 times per day for the first week especially before sleep.
  • Wound care. You will be given instructions on how to care for your elbow dressing. In some cases two dressings are applied to the elbow and you will be instructed to take the outer layer off after a day or two. In most cases the dressing you have should remain in place until your next office visit. The dressing has a special antibiotic layer that decreases the risk of infection. The dressing should be kept clean and dry. It is very important to follow the discharge instructions. If you have questions please call the office. You may not get in a hot tub or pool and immerse the incisions underwater for six weeks but you may get in the shower and let the water run over them once the dressing has been removed. Pat the incisions dry afterwards, and place band-aids over the incisions. There is no need to place any ointment over the incisions. It is better to keep them dry. If you notice drainage, swelling or increased pain 5 days after surgery please call the office. Redness around the incision is very common and should not be a concern unless it is associated with drainage at any point after the dressing is removed, or with redness spreading away from the incision or fevers. Often after elbow arthroscopy there is a significant amount of bruising and swelling in the elbow, forearm and hand. This is related to minor internal bleeding and is normal. It may take several weeks for all of the bruising and swelling to resolve.
  • Sleep. It is often very difficult to sleep in the week or two following surgery. The surgery itself may interfere with your sleep-wake cycle. You will likely be most comfortable with your arm propped on pillows. This often helps with the pain.
  • Driving. Operating a motor vehicle may be difficult due to you inability to use your operative arm. If you should have an accident or get pulled over while wearing a sling or splint, the authorities may consider that driving while impaired. The decision to drive is based on your comfort level with driving essentially one-handed. If you need to drive you should wait at least until you have seen your doctor at the first postoperative visit. Once you are out of your sling and/or splint you may drive once you feel safe operating a vehicle. No one should operate a motor vehicle while taking narcotic medications. Please limit car driving until you are off narcotics.
  • Physical therapy. The decision to prescribe physical therapy and when to start these activities is made on a case by case basis. This will be discussed with you on your first postoperative visit. It is rare that you surgeon will prescribe therapy before your first postoperative visit. It is important that you start to move the elbow after 48 hours. Because the dressing is soft, movement is possible with minimal restriction. You may be instructed by your surgeon/recovery room nurse to begin gentle range of motion exercises on the day of surgery. These will be self directed exercises that you start on your own. Most patients are encouraged to stretch their elbow 3 or 4 times per day. The recommended motions include stretching the elbow straight, then bending the elbow, followed by turning the palm up towards the ceiling and then down toward the floor with the elbow bent. Each motion should be repeated 10 times. You may use the opposite arm to assist stretching in each direction. These motions sometimes cause pain, but it is OK to push into the pain a little to prevent the elbow from becoming stiff after surgery.

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