Wrist surgery recovery: what to expect

Wrist surgery recovery is a straightforward process but only if you follow the directions of your physician. Wrist surgery comes with guidelines for post-surgery care which may involve physical therapy, pain management, and a splint or cast. Your body has suffered a considerable trauma and will require recovery and rehabilitation to get back in motion. After your wrist surgery, there are several precautions you should take.

More than anything, you should follow your physician’s guidelines after your wrist surgery. Every injury, surgeon, and surgery is different. Because of this, you should follow your unique set of care instructions carefully.

Prevent complications during your wrist surgery recovery

The first 48 hours after surgery require a significant change in your activities. The first thing you may notice after any surgery, especially wrist surgery, is the discomfort at the surgery site. Although your injury has been treated, the pain will take some time to subside completely.

Immediately after wrist surgery, the National Institute of Health recommends taking these precautions:

  • Take your prescribed pain medication as directed. Do not drive when under the influence of the pain medication.
  • If pain or discomfort increases, follow up with your doctor or nurse.
  • Follow the instructions given to you about care for the incision. Avoid touching the area.
  • To prevent blood clots, resume movement after the surgery as soon as you can. In the case of wrist surgery, you should be up and active within a few days.
  • Eat as instructed by your doctor. Always drink plenty of fluids, take in fiber for your bowels, and add protein to promote healing.

Resume your daily activities with during your wrist surgery recovery

Because your body is used to moving without pain, it is easy to forget about your post-surgery physical restrictions and overextend yourself. Full recovery will take a few months, but you should pay special attention to your recovery for the first few weeks. Wrist surgery will not inhibit movement in the legs, torso, and head.  

While it may seem frustrating, the rate of wrist surgery recovery is rapid, with nearly all mobility being regained post-surgery. “Most patients will be able to perform most activities of daily living at about six weeks but with residual stiffness, with recovery of about 50% of their normal wrist motion,” according to the University of Washington.  

To both heal and strengthen, your wrist surgery recovery should include a mix of multiple therapies. A typical course of treatment prescribed by a doctor will include some or all of the following:  

  • A course of antibiotics
  • Pain management medication
  • Reduced movement and activity for up to three months
  • Follow-up appointments
  • Splinting or casting at a post-surgery appointment
  • Removal of splinting or casting
  • Physical therapy for motion recovery
  • Post-surgery x-rays about six weeks post-surgery

How long does pain last after wrist surgery?

The average wrist surgery recovery period is twelve weeks. It is not uncommon for patients to get concerned about how long the pain will last after wrist surgery. As a general rule, most patients have dull pain for about two months post-surgery with minor occurrences of severe pain happening with an accidental movement or overextension. Pain medication should be taken as prescribed, especially for the first few days after surgery.

In a study of patients throughout the one year following wrist surgery found that “the majority of patients experienced mild pain at rest and (very) severe high levels of pain with movement during the first two months following distal radius fracture.” Exceptionally high levels of pain could be a sign of a problem when paired with redness, swelling, or even drainage.

The care of casts and splints for wrist surgery patients

Recovering from wrist surgery often requires a cast or a splint. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that the radius (wrist) is the most commonly broken bone in the arm and a common form of treatment for this injury is a splint or cast. These items have their own set of care instructions. If ignored, you can find yourself with slower healing times, infections, and worse. To take care of your cast or splint:

  • Keep the splint or cast dry, because even a small hole can lead to moisture and infection.
  • Avoid sweating, dirty activities, and other hazards. While your wrist is recovering, a wrist or splint serves as a constant reminder to take it easy and avoid certain activities. Not only can these contaminate your cast, but you can also re-injure yourself.
  • Do not alter the structure of the cast. If a thread is hanging or padding is bothering you, you should not cut it. See your physician if you believe the cast or splint is on improperly.
  • Check for cracking to the cast or any issues to your skin surrounding the cast. Since you cannot see what is going on with your skin, look for redness or any raw skin around the cast.

Remember, you have suffered a serious injury so always err on the side of caution. Use your common sense when caring for your cast and if you notice its condition deteriorating, visit your doctor.

Physical therapy during your wrist surgery recovery

Physical therapy can help you regain mobility and restore your wrist strength. According to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, it was found that “starting wrist motion within 3-5 days and strengthening exercises at two weeks after surgery can lead to earlier return to function for patients.” Some surgeons may not recommend physical therapy at this pace but the study found statistically significant results supporting the effects of wrist exercise. Get an individual assessment from a professional to determine the frequency and length of your physical therapy treatment.

Recover from wrist surgery quickly with proper care

After your wrist surgery, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor with any questions or concerns. Your physician will work with you to find the recovery time that fits your specific situation. From the day of surgery to the final follow-up appointment, you should expect to be fully mobile again in just a short period of time!

Don’t let the stress of paying for your procedure affect your wrist surgery recovery. New Choice Health’s Orthopedic Surgery Assistance program helps uninsured and underinsured patients find affordable prices for the procedures they need. Learn more about New Choice Health’s Patient Assist program today to find out just how affordable your wrist surgery could be.

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