Elbow Arthroscopy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

Arthroscopy is a way to find problems and do surgery inside a joint without making a large cut (incision). Your doctor put a lighted tube with a tiny camera-called an arthroscope, or scope-and surgical tools through small incisions in your elbow.

You will feel tired for several days. Your elbow will be swollen, and you may notice that your skin is a different colour near the cuts (incisions). Your hand and arm may also be swollen. This is normal and will start to go away in a few days. Keeping your arm higher than your heart will help the swelling and pain.

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.

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. Use pillows to raise your elbow and arm above the level of your heart.
  • Your doctor or other health professional will tell you how often and how much you can move your elbow and arm.
  • 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.
  • You may have a sling for comfort. Begin to move your elbow as soon as you can, unless your doctor has told you not to. This will help keep your elbow from getting stiff after surgery.
  • For the first few weeks after surgery, avoid lifting anything that could strain your elbow. This may include a child, heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, or a vacuum cleaner.
  • Do not use your arm for repeated movements until it has healed for a few weeks. These include painting or vacuuming.
  • If you have a desk job, you will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine in a few days. If you lift heavy objects or do physical labour at work, it may be 1 to 2 months before you can return.
  • You can take a shower 48 to 72 hours after surgery and clean the incisions with regular soap and water. Do not take a bath or soak your elbow until your doctor says it is okay.
  • You can drive when your arm is out of the sling and you can use it well enough to be safe, or when your doctor says you can.

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 dressings over your incisions, keep them clean and dry. You may remove them 24 to 48 hours after the surgery.
  • If your incisions are open to the air, keep the area clean and dry.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incisions, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.

Exercise

  • 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.
  • Your doctor or physiotherapist will give you exercises as part of a rehab program. Begin to move your elbow as soon as you can, unless your doctor told you not to.
  • Stop any activity that causes sharp pain. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about what sports or other exercise you can do.

Ice and elevation

  • To reduce swelling and pain, put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Do this every 1 to 2 hours. 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 numbness, tingling, or a bluish colour in your fingers or hand.
  • You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood soaks through a large dressing or bandage over your incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the cuts.
    • Pus draining from the cuts.
    • A fever.

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

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.

Where can you learn more?

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

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Current as of: March 21, 2017