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Recovering from Hand Surgery: What You Need to Know

Jul 19, 2021

Not as much is known about the recovery from hand surgery compared with other types of orthopedic surgeries (e.g., hip replacement, knee surgery, etc.). Some of this is due to a lack of high-quality studies designed to investigate what factors encourage a successful outcome following hand surgery.
To date, studies have shown that recovering from hand surgery has more to do with the patient’s mood and outlook than the details of the surgery. Whether the surgery was invasive and required a lengthy recovery or was brief and superficial, the outcome is greatly improved by a patient’s cheerful attitude and positive, optimistic outlook. This is not to say that recovery does not require a patient to be dedicated to physical therapy and rehabilitation. However, having a high level of dedication to the work required coincides with a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from Hand Surgery?

While the obvious answer is “it depends,” there are some general rules and guidelines about recovering from surgery. Generally, it takes 2 to 4 months before the typical patient experiences enough recovery to return to work. Ultimately, it can take several months to more than a year to recover 100 percent, but this is not usually necessary before one can return to living a relatively normal life. A few months is typically required for the patient to return to most of his normal daily activities.
One factor that has been noted for years is that different patients with similar problems, surgeries, and overall health often have very different recovery times from hand surgery. While there have not been a large number of studies looking at this, the studies that have been done show the following factors are important when recovering:

How to Reduce Swelling from Hand Surgery

A common occurrence for anyone recovering from surgery is the presence of swelling shortly after surgery. The body’s reaction to injury causes swelling (e.g., from a scalpel). The body sends lots of fluid to the injured area as this fluid contains cells to prevent infection and start the process of wound healing. So, swelling does not just happen when recovering from surgery but following nearly any operation.
To minimize the swelling that will occur in patients going through hand surgery recovery, the most important point to remember is to keep the hand (and often the arm) elevated above the level of the heart as much as possible. This should start immediately after surgery and continue for 3 to 7 days before swelling is no longer a concern, and the arm can be kept in its normal position.

During this 3 to 7 day period, it is okay to lower the arm for brief periods to rest, but these times should be as short and rare as possible. Hand surgeons will usually assist patients in keeping their hands elevated by teaching various techniques and providing devices (e.g., a sling or special pillow) to patients.

Things to Do and Things to Avoid While Recovering from Hand Surgery

There are many things a patient can do before and after hand surgery to ensure a full recovery as quickly as possible. Factors that improve how quickly and fully someone engaged in hand surgery recovery include:

●       The type and complexity of the surgery. This factor is generally not one that a person can control.

●       The person’s general health, ability to heal, and efforts to modify these factors. For example, someone with diabetes should make an extra effort to keep their blood sugar levels steady and within the normal range before and after surgery.

●       Lifestyle choices such as eating a healthy diet of proteins and complex carbohydrates.

●       How precisely the surgeon’s directions are followed before the surgery.

●       How well the rehabilitation plan is followed after the surgery.

●       Limiting life stress during recovery helps improve the healing process and the time it takes to recover.

Many of the things to avoid before surgery and throughout the recovery period are common sense. These include:

●       Smoking slows wound healing throughout the body.

●       Consuming alcohol which worsens diabetes and heart disease disrupts normal sleep patterns needed for wound healing and weakens the immune system.

●       Not keeping other medical conditions in good control (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.).

●       Not following the exact plan for rehabilitation created by your orthopedic surgeon and rehabilitation specialists.

●       Using the hand too much and too early following surgery.

●       Not using the hand at all following surgery. This often results in problems with stiffness.

●       Not elevating the hand as instructed to minimize swelling and improve healing.

●       Keeping the part of the hand that did not have surgery still. For example, if surgery was on your thumb, make sure to move your fingers and wrist daily. Otherwise, these joints will become still, and the muscles will shrink and weaken. There are many unique hand surgeries, such as trigger finger surgery, and all have unique post-surgery instructions to follow. Ask your orthopedic hand surgeon what is best for you. 

What to Wear After Hand Surgery

For patients recovering from hand surgery, you may be administered a small plaster piece supporting the wrist. When the wrist moves, the muscles in the wrist contract, and the tendons that travel from the muscles in the wrist to the tips of the fingers shorten to cause the fingers to bend. Immediately following surgery, this movement may not be desirable. So, to help stabilize the fingers and hand while recovering, the wrist must be supported and prevented from bending.

Of course, the hand or wrist will initially be covered with bandages, and it is important that while recovering from hand surgery, the bandages do not get wet. Following the doctor’s advice on how to shower and wash with the bandages is very important.

Often, plastic bags like Ziploc® bags are recommended to protect the area from water during hand surgery recovery. The doctor will also teach the patient how much movement is okay and how much is too much immediately following surgery. A wrist splint will often be given to the patient to support the wrist and prevent excessive movement.

For the best hand surgeons available who can evaluate any hand or wrist condition and recommend the best course of action, look no further than the Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey. With locations throughout New Jersey, there is certain to be one near you. And if surgery is needed and recovering from hand surgery as fully and quickly as possible is important to you, find an expert orthopedic hand specialist today!

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.