Hand and Nerve Surgery: Post-Operative Instructions

Hand and Nerve Surgery: Post-Operative Instructions

Following hand or arm surgery, it is an expected part of the process of recovery for patients to experience swelling and pain. Once the surgery has been completed, you will speak with your doctor at Cooper about your specific recovery plan. But with that said, there are a number of general recommendations that will help with pain and swelling, as well as ensure a more quick and complete recovery.

How to Reduce Swelling and Pain

It is common for patients to experience swelling and pain while recovering from surgery. Reducing swelling helps speed recovery and will lessen your pain. To reduce swelling, the following steps should be taken:


Elevate your arm above your heart. The best way to do this comfortably is to lie flat on your back with your hand resting on a few pillows. Elevate your hand for at least three days after surgery.


An ice pack applied directly to your post-operative dressing will reduce swelling and inflammation at the surgical site. Ice can be particularly helpful for the first three days after surgery.

Use a Sling

A sling will help to immobilize your hand so the injured areas can heal. In some cases, a sling will be recommended so that the injured area will not move and any aggravation will be avoided. Depending on the surgery and the injured area, a sling may not be recommended.

Keep the Surrounding Area Moving

In order to avoid stiffness and swelling, ensure that the rest of your body is moving while your hand remains still. This may include other areas of your hand as well as your arm and shoulder.

Physical Therapy

Post-surgery rehabilitation may help to increase your hand’s strength and function as well as reduce pain and swelling. Cooper’s rehabilitation program offers a wide range of physical therapy and occupational therapy options with trained specialists that will help guide you through the process.

Wound Care

The postoperative dressing can be left intact until you see your doctor within 10-14 days of surgery. If swelling is occurring in the fingers and is not responding to elevation and ice, then loosening the outer ace bandage can sometimes help. For some procedures (trigger finger, carpal tunnel, ganglion cyst) it is fine to change your dressing three days after surgery if you are comfortable with performing a dressing change.

You may apply a new dressing to the wound on the third day after surgery. Seven days after surgery it is allowable to get your surgical wound wet in the shower. Do not immerse the wound in water.


Some or all of your fingers may have been left free of your dressing so that you can move them. Finger movement, if allowed, can reduce stiffness and swelling.


To manage the pain that will come after surgery, many patients are prescribed pain medication. It is important to begin taking the medication according with your doctor’s recommendation, usually as soon as possible after the surgery. If the medication is taken after the anesthetic wears off, then the pain will be more severe.

Your pharmacist may be able to provide information about drug interactions with other medications that you are taking. Pain medications can often cause nausea, constipation and itching. Do not drink alcohol, drive or make important decisions while taking narcotic pain medications.


Begin with liquids and light foods. Advance to your normal diet once liquids and lighter foods are well tolerated.

Contacting your Doctor

Typically follow-up appointments are scheduled for 10-14 days after surgery. Occasionally your doctor will specify an earlier follow-up appointment. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your doctor. The orthopedic office is open daily on weekdays. In the evenings and on weekends, a doctor from Cooper Bone and Joint Institute is also available for emergencies through the Emergency Department at Cooper University Hospital.


X-rays and therapy are often an important part of your post-operative care. Referrals are often necessary for this care. Please be sure of what your insurance covers. X-rays can often be obtained in your doctor’s office if the appropriate referrals have been obtained.