How Long Is Elbow Surgery Recovery?
You may have one of the common problems that cause pain, weakness, or stiffness of the elbow. These problems include tendinitis (tendon inflammation), tendon rupture or breakage of the triceps or biceps, arthritis, fractures (broken bones), or nerve problems, which may require elbow surgery.
After discussing these elbow problems with your orthopedic specialist at The Bone & Joint Surgery Clinic, you and your doctor may decide to move forward with surgery. The most common question when thinking about surgery is how long the recovery takes.
It is important to know that your recovery after elbow surgery depends very much on the type of problem you have and the type of surgery that is being performed.
But before talking about recovery for different types of surgery, it is important to understand that some parts of the recovery are the same for all elbow surgeries.
The Many Advantages of Outpatient Elbow Surgery
For example, elbow surgery is almost always performed “outpatient,” meaning that you will go home the day of the procedure; there is no overnight or long stay in the hospital. Outpatient surgery is the ideal way of healing, comfortable in your own home, surrounded by those who can assist you with your healing.
Other parts of healing that are the same for all elbow surgeries include having a small wrap or splint around your elbow after the surgery. Depending on the surgery, this wrap or splint may be in place for a few days, or it may be in place for a few weeks. This covering will help to keep your incision clean while the early healing takes place, but it also may help the elbow to “cool down” and “calm down” after the surgery.
It will also be important and necessary for all elbow surgery patients to take some time off of normal activities at home and at work, elevating the operated elbow, applying ice, and allowing the skin and other areas to “cool down” and heal.
Tendinitis, or Surgery Performed for Tendon Inflammation or Pain
Elbow surgery for tendinitis– especially tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow– while rarely needed, can be very helpful to improve long-term pain from these problems. Usually, healing includes a small wrap for a few days which the patient can remove on their own at home, icing the area, and anti-inflammatory medicine and Tylenol.
Usually, a splint or cast is not necessary after the surgery, and it is okay to perform light activity and gently move your elbow while healing. However, it will be very important to avoid using the operated elbow for heavy activity such as:
- Yard work
- Lifting weights
Usually, these activities can be slowly resumed 4 or 6 weeks after elbow surgery.
Tendon Rupture or Breakage, Such as Biceps or Triceps
Surgery to “reattach” torn tendons such as the biceps or triceps are considered somewhat larger surgeries. When repairing a tendon that has pulled off of the bone, the surgeon will be extra careful to protect your elbow after the surgery.
So often, you may be placed into a hard splint or cast after the elbow surgery that will remain in place for 1 to 2 weeks, or your surgeon may instruct you to wear a sling for 1 to 2 weeks to keep your elbow in a safe position while healing.
After that, your surgeon will likely allow you to gently move your elbow, but this type of surgery will also require time before getting back to “heavy” activities, and often this period of rest will be longer, 6 weeks to 3 months.
Surgery to address elbow arthritis, which can include “scope” surgery or regular open incision surgery, is usually performed to remove bone spurs around the elbow or remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage floating around in the elbow.
While you will probably have a light wrap on your elbow after surgery, usually you will be allowed to move the elbow right away, and your doctor will probably want you to do so to keep from getting too stiff. Surgery for elbow arthritis usually does not require a prolonged time of avoiding heavy activities.
Fractures and broken bones
Surgery to repair broken bones and important ligaments is much more complex. Healing after these surgeries can range from very quick to very long, because some broken bones are very mild, and some broken bones are very severe.
Based on your situation, your surgeon may have you move your elbow right away after surgery, or they may prescribe longer resting times. It is likely that you will require multiple X-rays and follow-up visits with your surgeon after this type of surgery to ensure your healing is good.
Nerve Problems, for Example, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Surgery to take pressure off of important nerves, especially cubital tunnel surgery, is very common. Usually, no splint or cast is needed after surgery, your doctor will probably want you to use the arm for light activities at home right away, you will take your wrap off around 2 days after surgery and you can begin showering.
Because no bones or tendons are involved in this surgery, usually you do not need to be as “careful” as you do with other types of surgeries. Most patients may comfortably return to gripping, working out, pushing, and pulling around 4 weeks after surgery.
No matter what your elbow problem is, it is important to understand that your orthopedic specialists at The Bone & Joint Surgery Clinic are here to guide you through your healing, whether you need surgery or not.