Hand and Nerve Surgery: Post-Operative Instructions

You have just had surgery on your hand or arm. The following are some general instructions that you may find helpful.


Swelling is natural after surgery for the first week. Reducing swelling helps speed recovery and will lessen your pain. The following two suggestions can help reduce your swelling.


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.

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.


Pain medications have been prescribed. Please take them as directed. 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.