The operations usually take around an hour and a half. Giving the anaesthetic takes about half an hour, and recovery before going back to the ward takes another half an hour to an hour.
You’ll be taken to a recovery room or high-care unit until you’re fully awake and the doctors feel that your general condition is stable. Then you’ll be taken back to the ward.
Sometimes the local anaesthetic from the operation wears off in the middle of the night. This can cause disturbed sleep and tiredness. You’ll probably be given painkillers before you go to sleep to make sure you’ll be more comfortable. The drip and any drains are usually removed within 24 hours. After that you’ll be able to start gently moving your arm again.
You’ll usually be in hospital for 2–3 nights after your surgery. During this time medical, nursing, physiotherapy and occupational therapy staff will be involved in your care. You’ll be given drugs after the operation to keep your arm as free from pain as possible. These may include:
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While in the hospital, you should have received pain medicine. You also learned how to manage swelling around your new joint.
Your surgeon or physical therapist may have taught you exercises to do at home.
Your elbow area may feel warm and tender for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery. The swelling should go down during this time.
For the first week after surgery, you may have a soft splint on your arm to hold your elbow in place. After the incision has healed, you may need to use a harder splint or brace that has a hinge.
Arrange for someone to help with chores such as shopping, bathing, making meals, and housework for up to 6 weeks. You may want to make some changes around your home so it is easier for you to take care of yourself.
You will need to wait 4 to 6 weeks before you can drive. Your surgeon or physical therapist will tell you when it is OK.
You may be able to start using your elbow as soon as 12 weeks after surgery. Full recovery can take up to a year.
Your physiotherapist will see you in hospital after the operation to help get you moving and advise you on exercises to strengthen your muscles. Either your physiotherapist or occupational therapist will tell you the dos and don’ts after your surgery. It’s very important to follow this advice.
Because there are several different types of shoulder and elbow surgery, there’s no single aftercare programme. Your post-op therapy will differ depending on the procedure you’ve had and also between different units and surgeons, so we can’t recommend specific exercise plans. We suggest that you discuss with your surgeon what to expect after the operation.
You may need about 6 to 8 weeks to recover. You may have to limit your activity until your elbow strength and movement return to normal. You may also be in a physical rehabilitation (rehab) program.
Driving is not allowed nor advisable at least until a partial recovery is achieved. On average most people return to driving around 4 weeks following surgery. If a ligament or tendon has been repaired, you need to wait until the tendon/ ligament has healed – normally around 8-10 weeks with a graduated increase in activity. Returning to driving early after tendon surgery may compromise your outcome.
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If a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or an injury has harmed your elbow, your doctor may recommend surgery to replace the joint, so you have less pain and can move better. During elbow replacement, a surgeon replaces your elbow with an artificial joint made from two implants that attach to the bones in your arm. Other possible signs such as: aching in the joint, followed by periods of relative relief; pain after extensive use; reduced elbow motion; joint stiffness after periods of inactivity or rest; and/or pain that seems to increase in humid weather may also lead you and your doctor to consider an elbow replacement surgery.
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Do not sleep on your surgical side until your physician has said it’s okay to do so. For better comfort during sleep, after having elbow surgery, it is recommended sleeping in a slightly upright position, for example, in a reclining chair with a pillow under the forearm. Sleeping in an easy chair or recliner may be most comfortable for the first few days after surgery. You may sleep without the sling.
The day after surgery, you can lift your shoulder up and down to keep it loose. Move your fingers and wrist as much as your bandages will allow. The amount of weight you can lift using your surgery arm will be limited. Your doctor may recommend that you don’t lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee for the first four to six weeks. Please consult with your orthopedic surgeon before you begin to lift anything.
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