Orthopedic Hardware Removal: What to Expect at Home
You've had surgery to remove orthopedic hardware such as metal screws, pins, or plates. You can expect some pain and swelling around the cut (incision) the doctor made. This should get better within a few days. But it's common to have some pain for up to several weeks.
Your doctor will tell you when it's okay to return to work or other activities.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Avoid using or putting weight on the area where the hardware was removed until your doctor says it's okay.
- Increase your activity as recommended by your doctor. Being active boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation. It's usually okay to exercise other parts of your body as soon as you feel well enough.
- You might need to take time off from work. It will depend on the type of hardware that was removed, where it was located, and the reason it was removed. It will also depend on the type of work you do and how you feel.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if and when to start taking it again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
- Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you had stitches, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them removed.
- If you have skin glue on the cut (incision), leave it on until it falls off. Skin glue is also called liquid stitches.
- If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
- If you don't have a cast, clean the incision 2 times a day after your doctor allows you to remove the bandage. Use only soap and water to clean the incision unless your doctor gives you different instructions. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.
- Do any exercises given to you by your doctor or physiotherapist. These exercises will help keep your muscles strong and your joints flexible while your bone heals.
- Wiggle your fingers or toes on the injured arm or leg often. This helps reduce swelling and stiffness.
Ice and elevation
- If possible, prop up the injured area on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the first 1 to 2 weeks after your surgery. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling and pain.
- Do not shower for 1 or 2 days after surgery. When you shower, keep your dressing and incisions dry. If you have a cast, tape a sheet of plastic to cover it so that it doesn't get wet.
- Do not take a bath, swim, use a hot tub, or soak the affected area until any stitches are out and your incision is healed. This usually takes 1 to 2 weeks.
- If you have a cast or splint:
- Keep it dry.
- Ask your doctor if it's okay to take off a removable splint to bathe. Your doctor may want you to keep it on as much as possible. Be careful not to put the splint on too tight.
- Do not stick objects such as pencils or coat hangers in your cast or splint to scratch your skin.
- Do not put powder into your cast or splint to relieve itchy skin.
- Never cut or alter your cast or splint.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
- You have symptoms of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- A fever.
- You have symptoms of a blood clot, such as:
- Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
- Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
- You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
- You are too sick to your stomach to drink any fluids.
- You cannot keep down fluids.
- You have a cast or splint and:
- Your fingers or toes on the injured arm or leg are cool, pale, or change colour.
- You have tingling or numbness in your fingers or toes.
- You cannot move your fingers or toes.
- Your cast or splint feels too tight.
- The skin under your cast or splint is burning or stinging.
- You have drainage or a bad smell coming from the cast or splint.
Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
- You have any problems with your cast or splint.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma & Herbert von Schroeder MD, MSc, FRCSC - Hand and Microvascular Surgery