Distal Biceps Tendon Repair: What to Expect at Home

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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 elbow brace for 4 to 6 weeks. You may also be in a sling for a week or so. You will 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 probably start 4 to 6 weeks after your surgery, 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. At first you will have help with the exercises, and then your doctor or physiotherapist will give you exercises to do on your own.

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. You should be able to throw objects and play sports 4 to 6 months after the surgery. 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. Getting enough sleep will help you recover. Lie flat, and put 2 or 3 pillows under your elbow so that it is above the level of your heart.
  • 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. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Your arm will be in a splint or brace to prevent it from moving for 4 to 6 weeks. Remove the splint or brace 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.
  • You will need rehab to help you regain the use of your arm. At first you may do range-of-motion exercises and slowly work up to strength-training exercises. This process may take several months. This depends on your injury and how you feel.
  • You may not be able to drive for 4 weeks, or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • You may shower when your doctor okays it. This may be up to 1 week after surgery. Pat the cut (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.
  • Drink plenty of fluids unless your doctor tells you not to.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking 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 blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines 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 you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain 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.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on your incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • When your doctor says it is okay, wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. After the doctor says it is okay, change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

Exercise

  • Do not move your elbow or arm until your doctor or physiotherapist tells you to.
  • Biceps tendon rehabilitation is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. This helps you get back your biceps muscle's range of motion and strength. You will work with your doctor and physiotherapist 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 or physiotherapist tells you to.

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.

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 severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you 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.
  • You have a fever over 38°C.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have heavy bleeding from the incision that soaks through the bandage.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: May 23, 2016