What to Expect During Hand Surgery Recovery
January 10th, 2020
Hand surgery is delicate and complicated. But the real test of patience comes with the process of recovering from hand surgery, which can involve weeks or even months of frustration over your limited function in your hand.
But you can set the course for a smooth recovery if you do some research and planning in advance. After surgery, you’ll just need to stick with the plan—and your therapist’s recommendations.
Here’s what you can do to set yourself up for a successful hand surgery recovery.
1. Establish Your Support System
Losing the use of your hand for a while is going to be challenging. You may not be able to drive or pick up ordinary objects. Before surgery, you should try to line up a relative or a friend (or two) to give you, well, a helping hand.
After your surgeon has worked their magic, your biggest ally in recovery will be your occupational therapist (OT). Find your therapist in advance so you can get started as soon as you—and your hand—are ready.
Look for a therapist who is a specialist or who is a certified hand therapist. To become a CHT, a therapist must meet rigorous requirements, including passing tests and logging extensive hours in the clinic.
2. Set up Your Home
Your life after surgery will be a lot easier if you do a little work to arrange your living space and meals beforehand. Try to:
- Make sure furniture is in place and important items are easy to reach.
- Place cushions and towels in strategic places so you can elevate and rest your arm.
- Get straws so you can drink without lifting cups to your mouth.
- Cook meals in advance. Store them in lightweight containers, such as tinfoil or plastic.
- Place plastic bags near sinks and your shower or bath. Bandages and braces typically need to stay dry.
- Consider which clothing items might be easiest to take on and off, and make them easy to reach.
- Put a warning note on heavier things you’ll probably want to pick up, but shouldn’t.
- Find easy-to-squeeze personal care products, such as toothpaste and shampoo.
These simple steps can make protecting your hand much easier in the days to come.
3. Make a Post-Surgery Plan
Some hospitals won’t operate unless the patient’s ride home is waiting in the building. Be sure to ask for a ride, and find out if the person needs to be with you when you check in.
If you live alone, you may want to ask people to stay with you for your first couple of days at home. As your anesthesia wears off, the pain will begin to set in. You could also have reactions to your pain medications, so make sure you have a doctor on call to help you manage it.
You may also appreciate help navigating your first days trying new challenges, such as getting out of the tub and brushing your teeth.
4. Consider Your Timeline and Limitations
Your recovery time depends on the severity and type of condition and surgery. Some recoveries are measured in milestones. For example, after a tendon repair it can take 12 weeks to regain strength, but up to six months to reach full range of motion.
You will need to manage your expectations and plan ahead for what you can accomplish during recovery. You may not be able to drive, type, carry your child or walk the dog. Be sure to respect the restrictions you’re given so you do not injure your hand again!
Your therapist will update you on your timeline and activity restrictions throughout your time together.
5. Plan for Pain
Your experience with discomfort, soreness and pain will depend on the type and severity of both your injury and surgery. Be sure to work with your doctor in advance to know what kinds of medications you may need and how you should take them.
If you have a simpler surgery, such as a carpal tunnel or trigger finger operation, you may only need over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Stock up on these in advance so you don’t run out.
More intensive surgeries, such as fusions, may require prescription painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. Many surgeons prescribe these in advance of surgery so you’ll already have them on hand.
6. Start Therapy for Your Hand Surgery Recovery
Your first session with your OT will be an assessment. The OT will ask you questions and have you perform everyday tasks to determine your hand pain and function levels.
The therapist will create a custom treatment plan for your specific injury, surgery and lifestyle. The plan will include specific exercises and therapies to help relieve swelling and pain, as well as to restore range of motion, strength and function.
After the first appointment, your OT sessions will likely be between 30 and 60 minutes depending on your availability, condition, treatments, and goals.
7. Learn About Your Brace or Splint
You will likely need at least one brace or splint to protect and support your hand during your recovery. Some people with longer recovery periods will change to different braces or splints as their rehabilitation progresses.
Your therapist can help you choose what kind of support to purchase, but the most comfortable, rehabilitative braces and splints are custom-made by an OT for your own injury and needs.
Be sure to ask your therapist how to take care of your brace or splint. For example, you may need to shower or bathe with a plastic bag over it to keep it dry.
8. Do Your Exercises and Therapies
Your OT will give you detailed, custom exercise plans throughout your rehabilitation. You may also benefit from additional therapies, such as:
- Electrical stimulation.
- Heat therapy.
- Ergonomics training.
- Manual therapies, such as myofascial release.
- Wound and scar care.
You should look for an OT that will give your doctor regular progress reports to keep your entire care team on the same page.
Get a Specialized Therapist to Set You up for Success
Hand surgery is a hassle. But when you take the right steps to make a full recovery, you can look forward to a life with less pain and better function.
If you’re ready to find the right hand therapist for your hand surgery recovery, request an appointment with Nick Roselli Occupational Therapy (NR-OT) today.