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Distal Biceps Tendon Repair: What to Expect at Home

Inside view of the arm, with detail of the biceps tendon and the stitches used to attach it to the radius bone

Your Recovery

Surgery for a distal biceps tendon tear repairs a tendon that is torn near the elbow. The distal biceps tendon connects the biceps muscle to the elbow bone.

Your arm may be in a splint or an elbow brace for 4 to 6 weeks. You may also be in a sling for a week or so. You may feel tired and have some pain for several days. Your arm may be swollen, but the swelling should go down a little each day.

You will need rehabilitation (rehab). This will start after the splint or brace is removed. Rehab usually lasts for 2 months. It takes about 3 to 4 months for your biceps muscle to heal.

You may be able to do easier daily activities in 2 to 3 weeks, as long as you do not use your injured arm. Most people who work at a desk job can return to work in 1 to 2 weeks. If you lift, push, or pull at work, it may take 3 to 4 months or longer before you can return to work. How long your recovery takes depends on your injury and how well your rehab goes.

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. Lie flat, and put 2 or 3 pillows under your elbow so that it is above the level of your heart.
  • Be active. Walking is a good choice.
  • If you have a splint or brace, remove it only when your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not lift anything with your injured arm for 4 to 6 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the incision dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

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.
  • If your bowel movements are not regular right after surgery, try to avoid constipation and straining. Drink plenty of water. Your doctor may suggest fibre, a stool softener, or a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking this medicine again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • 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.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Wash the area daily with warm water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. They can slow healing.

Ice and elevation

  • Put ice or a cold pack on your arm 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) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up your arm on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.

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.
  • Your hand or fingers are tingly, weak, or numb.
  • You are sick to your stomach or can't keep down fluids.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in your leg.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

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

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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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.