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Ulnar Nerve Decompression: What to Expect at Home

Ulnar nerve passing through tunnel at the elbow, with detail of pressure on the nerve.

Your Recovery

You had surgery to relieve pressure on a nerve in your arm. A cut (incision) was made along your elbow. Depending on the type of surgery, your doctor might have cut the tissue that was pressing on the nerve. Or your doctor might have moved the nerve or shaved off some of the bone on the inner side of the elbow.

Your arm will hurt and may feel weak with some numbness. Pain usually goes away in a few days. But weakness and numbness may last a few months. Your doctor may remove the large bandage or may tell you when and how to remove it yourself. In some cases, you may have a splint or cast. If you have one, you may need to wear it for 2 weeks or more.

If your stitches need to be removed, your doctor will take them out in about 2 weeks.

When you can return to work depends on the type of surgery you had, whether it was on the arm you use most, and the type of work you do.

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?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk.
  • Allow your arm to heal. Don't push, pull, or lift anything heavy until your doctor says it's okay to do so. This will depend on the type of surgery you had.
  • You may drive when you are fully able to use your arm.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get 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, take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you had stitches that will need to be removed, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them taken out.
  • If you have skin glue on the cut (incision), leave it on until it falls off. Skin glue is also called liquid stitches.
  • Keep your bandage dry. If it gets dirty, you may change it.

Exercise

  • You may need arm and hand rehabilitation. This is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. It helps you get back your arm's and hand's range of motion, strength, and grip. You will work with your doctor and physiotherapist or occupational therapist to plan this exercise program. To get the best results, you need to do the exercises correctly and as often and as long as your doctor tells you.

Ice and elevation

  • If your doctor says it's okay, put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) and then as needed to help with pain. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up the sore elbow on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.

Hygiene

  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Keep your bandage dry by taping a sheet of plastic to cover it. Do not take a bath until the incision heals, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • If you have a splint or cast, keep it dry. If you have a removable splint, your doctor will tell you if you can take it off when you shower. Be careful not to put the splint on too tight.

Other instructions

  • Avoid putting pressure on the sore elbow until your doctor says it's okay to do so.

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 call line 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 chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • Your hand is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your cast or splint feels too tight.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your hand or fingers.
  • You are sick to your stomach or can't drink fluids.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • 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.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have a problem with your cast or splint.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.