Post-Operative Patient Information: Elbow Surgery

You have just undergone elbow surgery. Pain, swelling and minor bleeding are normal after any operation.

It will take 10-14 days for your skin wound to heal and you will notice that your pain, swelling and bruising will decrease each day after the operation.

Information About Your Care

Dressing

A specialised waterproof dressing has been applied to your wound. The area under your dressing is sterile and should not be disturbed before your next follow-up appointment. You should AVOID baths and direct water from showering that may wet your dressing and your wound. If you are showering, cover your dressing with a clean, new plastic garbage bag and tape it closed at the end to keep your dressing dry.

Sling

Dr McLean does not recommend using a sling following elbow surgery, as using a sling can precipitate post- operative elbow stiffness secondary to scarring. Following rare, severe elbow injuries that are associated with instability and sometimes require a splint, Dr McLean will recommend a sling to help stabilise your elbow during the protective phase of your recovery. Dr McLean will specify whether this is the case immediately following your surgery. Please note, Dr McLean will always give you direction if a sling is recommended. If you are unsure, please contact our office for clarification: (08) 8267 8292.

Problems that should be reported to my office

Some serious shoulder injuries can cause bone fractures or ligament tears that, over time, can damage cartilage. This causes pain and limitation of movement in the shoulder.

Follow-Up

Your first follow-up appointment is normally scheduled for 2 weeks with our practice nurse. A second follow- up is normally scheduled for 4-6 weeks later, depending on the surgery that has been performed.

Pain

Some degree of discomfort is normal after surgery, but you should not have to ‘put up’ with pain. You will be given painkillers and anti-inflammatories for your pain. Strong pain medications can be tapered over a few weeks. Significant pain normally resolves within 2 weeks. Some pain can last up to 6 weeks and continues to improve each day.

There are several steps you can take to help control (but not eliminate) your pain:

  1. Take your pain medications as prescribed on the bottle. As your pain level improves, decrease the dose, rather than increasing the time between doses. For example, start with 2 tablets and decrease to 1 tablet, then 1⁄2 a tablet every 4 hours as your pain level decreases. This will control your pain better than waiting until your pain is worse before taking the tablet.
  2. At night, consider setting an alarm when you go to bed, so that you take your scheduled dose during the night. This will help control your pain and prevent unexpected early morning wakening as your pain medications wear off.
  3. An ice pack (or ice cubes in a plastic bag), wrapped in a tea towel can be applied to the elbow for 20 minutes. Do not allow the ice to dampen or wet the dressing. You should AVOID removing the dressing to apply ice directly to the skin. The area under your dressing is sterile and should not be disturbed before your next follow-up appointment. Ice therapy can be discontinued after the first 3 days.
  4. Fluid tends to accumulate in the hands, forearm and elbow in an operated limb. This is a normal response of your body to surgery. Do not be alarmed if your fingers and hand swell. They may also turn purple if fluid and blood accumulate in your soft tissue. To control some of the fluid accumulation, try and elevate your elbow while you are resting, aiming for your elbow/wrist/hand to be higher than your heart. Less swelling is often associated with less ‘throbbing’ pain and can be an effective way of controlling some of your pain.

You may experience side effects from the anaesthetic or pain medications. The most common are nausea and constipation. Over-the-counter medications can minimize these side-effects and are available at your local pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist for help, if you have questions.

Patient resources for elbow conditions

Check out Dr McLean’s articles on elbow related information and post surgery information.

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