Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting you back to your daily activities. An exercise program will help you regain elbow and forearm motion and strength. Your surgeon will develop a rehabilitation plan based on the surgical procedures you required.
In some cases, your doctor will instruct you or a family member with basic exercises to begin at home a few days following surgery. In more advanced surgeries, physical therapy is often prescribed after the first postoperative visit to facilitate motion, strength, and return of function of the elbow. The type and duration of therapy will depend on the type of problem you have and the type of surgery you required.
Return to driving, basic activities of daily living, and return to work will depend on the type of surgery you required and should be discussed with your doctor prior to surgery.
After surgery, you will stay in the recovery room for 1 to 2 hours before being discharged home. Nurses will monitor your responsiveness and provide pain medication, if needed. You will be provided discharge instructions that cover medications, need for ice and elevation, as well dressing care. You will need someone to drive you home and stay with you for at least the first night.
Although recovery from arthroscopy is often faster than recovery from open surgery, it may still take weeks for your elbow joint to completely recover.
You can expect some pain and discomfort for at least a week after surgery. If you have had a more extensive surgery, however, it may take several weeks before your pain subsides. Your doctor will likely prescribe pain medicine to be taken regularly for the first few days after surgery. In addition, other medicines such as stool softeners or anti-inflammatory medicines may be prescribed.
It is important to ice and elevate your elbow regularly for 48 hours after surgery. This will reduce the risk of severe swelling and help to relieve pain. When elevating your arm, whether you lie flat or recline, make sure your elbow is resting higher than your heart and your hand is positioned higher than your elbow. Depending on the type of surgery performed, your doctor may have specific instructions for longer periods of ice and elevation.
You will most likely be encouraged to move your fingers and wrist frequently to help stimulate circulation and minimize swelling. Your doctor may recommend early range-of-motion exercises to prevent joint stiffness. When you can start these gentle exercises, as well as return to daily activities, will depend on the type of surgery performed.
Dressing care will depend on the type of surgery performed and the preferences of your doctor. In most cases, the operative dressing and/or splint is removed 2 to 3 days after surgery. During this time, your dressing must be left intact and kept dry. In some instances, you may be instructed to keep the dressing in place until your first postoperative clinic visit with your doctor.