Hand surgery can be necessary to treat conditions or injuries when non-surgical treatments have been unsuccessful or if there is significant damage to the hand, which requires repair. As with any type of surgical procedure, pre and post op care is very important in order to have a successful recovery following surgery.
There are a variety of injuries and chronic conditions that can affect the hand and cause pain or reduced function. An orthopedic hand surgeon specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders and injuries of the hand. They have a profound understanding of the complex networks of blood vessels, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones that make up the hand and fingers, and can effectively treat patients experiencing problems with mobility and movement, or who have ongoing pain. Minimally invasive surgery is often used where possible to reduce pain, trauma, and recovery time. Post op care and recovery time can vary depending on the type of surgical procedure, which can include:
- Tendon repair or transfer surgery
- Nerve injury or repair
- Cord release surgery
- Infection surgery
- Joint replacement
- Ganglion cyst removal
- Fracture surgery
Before any type of surgery, a pre-operative assessment is carried out to ensure that the patient is fit enough to undergo surgery. It also helps to identify any issues that may need to be dealt with by the surgical or anesthetic teams. Pre-op assessments include checking full medical history and a physical examination to check the patient is in good health.
Prior to hand surgery, special instructions will be provided outlining what is required before the procedure (such as avoiding or an adjustment to medications) and what to do on the day of surgery. Post-operative care and follow-up instructions will also be discussed.
It is a good idea to give up smoking prior to surgery because smoking raises the chances of complications and infection during surgery and after, and can also make wounds take longer to heal which can prolong recovery time.
Recovery from hand surgery can take time, but following post-op care guidelines can reduce the risk of complications and ensure a successful recovery. Exact instructions for post-op care can vary slightly, depending on the type of procedure being done. However, most procedures will include the following guidelines.
Many hand surgeries can be carried out as outpatient procedures, meaning patients can often go home the same day. Patients should not drive for at least 48 hours following an anesthetic and, depending on the type of surgery being performed, should avoid driving until the surgeon says it is ok to do so. An anesthetic can also cause dizziness, lightheaded, or tiredness for up to 24 hours after surgery.
Reducing Pain and Swelling
Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication is often required for post-operative pain and swelling is often the primary reason for post-operative discomfort. Keeping the arm elevated (so it is above the heart) for at least 72 hours can ease pain and keep the hand more comfortable. This can be done by keeping the arm up on pillows when sitting or lying down. Additionally, ice packs applied to the hand or arm can help to reduce swelling and improve comfort. Ice packs should be applied regularly for 2-3 days after surgery and for no more than 20–30 minutes at a time.
Following fracture surgery, a protective cast or splint is usually worn while the bones heal to protect the fracture and keep the bones in the correct position. There may be pain and swelling for 1-2 weeks after the surgery, which can be alleviated with medication, rest, icing, and elevation. Pain should reduce as the fracture starts to heal.
All dressings should be kept clean and dry and left on until the follow-up appointment. If dressings become wet or significantly bloodstained, you should contact your doctor for advice. For some types of hand surgery, dressings can be changed 3 days after surgery, but instructions will be provided beforehand.
Physical therapy or occupational therapy may be recommended following hand surgery or after casting/splinting to assist and speed up the recovery. Therapy aims to help regain movement, strength, and flexibility, and exercises will be provided to help improve range of motion and fine motor skills.
Depending on the type of hand surgery, the surgeon may limit or restrict certain activity while the injury or condition heals. It is very important to allow adequate healing time as returning to activities too soon can cause complications and delay healing. Your surgeon will advise when it is safe to resume normal activities after surgery.
It is important to attend all follow-up appointments with your surgeon after surgery to ensure your hand heals correctly and recovery is a success.
Hand Surgeon, Palm Beach County
If you have hand pain or are considering surgery, South Palm Orthopedics can help. Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steve Meadows specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of a multitude of hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder conditions and injuries. To find out more about the services we provide or to schedule an appointment use our interactive appointment request form or call us at (561) 496-6622.