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Elbow replacement - discharge

Alternate Names

Total elbow arthroplasty - discharge; Endoprosthetic elbow replacement - discharge

When You Were in the Hospital

You had surgery to replace your elbow joint with artificial joint parts (prosthetics).

The surgeon made an incision (cut) in the back of your upper or lower arm and removed damaged tissue and parts of the bones. The surgeon then put in the artificial joint in place and closed with sutures (stitches).

You were given pain medicine and learned how to manage swelling around your new joint.

What to Expect at Home

Your elbow area may feel warm and tender for 2-4 weeks after surgery.

For the first week after surgery, you may have a soft splint on your arm to hold your elbow in place. Some people need to use a harder splint or brace that has a hinge when the incision has healed

You will need help with every chores such as shopping, bathing, making meals, and housework for up to 6 weeks. You may want to make some changes around your home so it is easier for you to take care of yourself.

You will need to wait 4-6 weeks before you can drive. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when it is okay.

You may be able to start using your elbow as soon as 12 weeks after surgery. Full recovery can take up to a year.

Activity

The amount you can use your arm and when you can start using it will depend on the condition of your elbow. Be sure to ask your doctor what limits you may have.

Your doctor will have you go to physical therapy to help you gain strength and use of your arm. If you have a splint, you may need to wait a few weeks to start therapy.

  • Ask your doctor if you can begin to increase your movement in your elbow by gently opening and closing your elbow joint. (If you have pain or problems with your incision when you do this exercise, you may be doing it exercise too much.)
  • You can reduce soreness after exercise by putting ice on the joint.

After the first week, you may be able to use your splint only while sleeping. Ask your doctor if this okay. You will need to avoid carrying anything or pulling items even when your splint is off.

By 6 weeks, you should be able to slowly increase daily activities to help make your elbow and arm stronger.

  • Do not lift anything heavier than 1-2 pounds when you do your exercises. Ask your doctor or physical therapist how much you can lift. 
  • You may also need to do shoulder and spine range-of-motion exercises.

By 12 weeks, you should be able to lift more weight. Ask your doctor what other activities you can do at this point.

Make sure you know the proper way to use your elbow before you start any activity or move your arm for any reason. Ask your doctor if you can: 

  • Lift things heavier than 10 to 15 lbs for the rest of your life
  • Play golf or tennis, or throw objects (such as a ball) for the rest of your life
  • Do any activities that make you lift your elbow over and over, such as shoveling or shooting basketballs
  • Do jamming or pounding activities, such as hammering
  • Do impact sports, such as boxing or football
  • Do physical activities that need quick stop and start motions or twisting with your elbow
  • Push heavy objects

Wound Care

The stitches on your wound will be removed about 1 week after surgery. Keep your incision and the dressing clean and dry for 2 weeks. You may change the dressing every day if you like.

Do NOT shower until after your follow-up appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will tell you when you can begin taking showers. When you do start showering again, let the water run over the incision, but do not let the water beat down on it. Do NOT scrub. Wash your incision gently and pat it dry.

Do NOT soak the wound in a bathtub, hot tub, or swimming pool.

 

Pain

Pain is normal after elbow replacement surgery. It should get better over time.

Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicine. Get it filled when you go home so that you have it when you need it. Take your pain medicine when you start having pain so pain doesn't get too bad.

Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medicine may also help. Ask your doctor what other medicines are safe to take with your pain medicine.

Do NOT drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicine. This medicine may make you too sleepy to drive safely.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • Blood is soaking through your dressing and the bleeding does not stop when you put pressure on the area
  • Pain does not go away after you take pain medicine
  • You have swelling or pain in your arm
  • Your hand or fingers look darker than normal or are cool to the touch
  • You have redness, pain, swelling, or yellowish discharge from your incision
  • You have a temperature higher than 101 °F.
  • Your new elbow joint feels loose, like it is moving around

References

Surgical options for the arthritic elbow. Gallo RA, Payatakes A, Sotereanos DG. J Hand Surg [Am]. 2008 May-Jun;33(5):746-59. Review. PMID: 18590859

Throckmorton TW. Shoulder and elbow arthroplsty. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 12.


Review Date: 11/15/2012
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Dept of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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