Recovering from hand surgery is an individual process that will vary among patients. The larger variables in hand surgery recovery is the type of surgery you have and its complexity. These, along with other important factors, like your age, your overall health and how long you have had the specific hand problem, combine to determine your recovery time from hand surgery.
Here we’ll look at a whole range of hand surgeries to give you a good idea of what you can expect when recovering. The good news is that most patients tell us that their surgery was well worth the time and effort.
Hand Surgery Recovery Periods
Hand surgeries are often minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that do not require general anesthesia. After many hand surgeries, you can begin moving your hand and fingers almost immediately. You will be instructed how and when to do so, but early on is typical.
This helps restore and maintain circulation to help speed healing. Too much movement too early, or the wrong type (like heavy lifting or pulling) however, can extend your recovery and affect your final result. Let’s look at some specific hand surgery recovery times:
Flexor Tendon Surgery
Flexor tendon surgery is often done to repair serious injuries and may require significant hand therapy after surgery to reach the optimal outcome. The amount of physical therapy is keyed to the severity and type of damage. Full range of motion can be achieved in many cases. Recovery times:
3 months: A splint is often worn continuously for the first 3 weeks, then intermittently for 6 weeks. At the end of this period, you can resume using a pen and/or keyboard. You won’t be driving for about 2 months or a bit longer. With physical therapy in a carefully followed regimen, patients are generally back to unrestricted use of the hand at about 3 months. Your strength is regained at this point but range of motion may still be restricted.
Possible secondary surgery due to scar tissue: Some patients are more prone to developing scar tissue. If significant scar tissue forms, an additional surgery might be needed to remove scar tissue and reconstruct the tendon. This is done in stages, by placing a spacer so that a new tissue surface can form over an approximated 3-month period. At that point, a graft is done to replace the spacer. Hand therapy follows and the schedule must be adhered to for best results.
If possible, your hand surgeon will perform the less invasive version of carpal tunnel surgery, an endoscopic procedure. Recovery times:
2 days: If you have surgery on your non-dominant hand and don’t need to do repetitive activities with the affected hand at work.
2 weeks: If you are a candidate for less the invasive version of carpal tunnel release, an endoscopic procedure, you may find that any pain, pins and needles or numbness practically disappear within 2 weeks following surgery. This is true for about half of endoscopic carpal tunnel patients. The other half may have minor pain and transient numbness for a month or 6 weeks after surgery.
2 to 3 months: If surgery is done on your dominant hand and you must do repetitive work, you may need 2 to 3 months before returning to full work duties. You may be able to modify your work activities if your workplace agrees. Then, check the work specifics with your surgeon for approval to return. Physical therapy may shorten your recovery.
3 to 6 months: Some patients’ anatomy is such that only open carpal tunnel release is possible, with an incision required in the palm. The open surgery can take months to heal and regain maximum range of motion.
6 months to maximum improvement: In cases where nerve compression is quite severe, it may also take months to return to normal. In only a few cases, nerve damage is permanent and there may be residual pins and needles, which will reach maximum expected improvement by about 6 months. In attempt t avoid permanent nerve damage, carpal tunnel sufferers should see the hand surgeon sooner rather than later.
Dupuytren’s Contracture Surgery
Because the open fasciectomy procedure to correct Dupuytren’s contracture (bent finger), may require quite a bit of resection (cutting to remove diseased tissue), drainage is required for several hours. The small drainage tube is removed the day after surgery. Seek an expert surgeon for best results from this complex surgery. Recovery times:
3 weeks to 6 months or longer: Where each patient falls within this range depends upon the contracture’s severity, amount of scar tissue formation and physical therapy compliance. A splint must be used at night and hand therapy is required during recovery.
Only 2 days: Some patients are candidates for a minimally invasive needle aponeurotomy (NA) procedure to treat Dupuytren’s. In this case, patients can return to normal activity levels after only 2 days, with no physical therapy required.
This procedure is typically performed percutaneously, using only a needle through the skin. Recovery times:
2 days: If you can do your job without using the affected hand, you may be able to return to work 1 or 2 days after surgery.
1 month or more: If your work requires repeated finger movements, lifting and pressure placed on your hand, you may need up to 6 weeks off work. Your hand surgeon will help you make the decision on an individual basis.
Want The Shortest Hand Surgery Recovery? Pick a Great Hand Surgeon
Hand surgery is typically very safe and outcomes usually match what the surgeon and patient discuss beforehand, provided you choose your surgeon wisely. No matter the type of hand surgery you undergo, choosing your hand surgeon wisely is the first step you can take to ensure the shortest hand surgery recovery and most successful outcome.
That’s because hand surgery results are extremely technique-dependent, so select a top hand surgeon and one with whom you share good communication and trust.
Why a Talented Hand Surgeon Makes All the Difference
A talented hand surgeon will not only help you achieve the best results from your hand surgery, he or she can also shorten your recovery. That’s because proper surgical technique, a gentle but precise touch, excellent medical judgment and customization of the procedure for the individual patient – all the things you can expect from a great hand surgeon – can actually shorten your healing time after hand surgery.
Meticulous technique means less cutting, less trauma to surrounding tissues, preservation or improvement of nerve function through microsurgery techniques, preservation or improvement of circulation and more.
More Tips to Shorten Any Hand Surgery Recovery
Understand and Follow Your Surgeon’s Instructions
This is another important factor in healing after hand surgery. For the best end result and most complete hand surgery recovery, follow orders. Also make sure you understand how to prepare for surgery, how to care for your incision afterward and how/when to begin moving and exercising your hand during hand surgery recovery.
A hand surgeon with dedication and excellent communication skills will prepare you well with clear instructions on all of the above.
Understand the Surgical Plan, Any Options and Risks
Your hand surgeon should explain to you exactly what will happen during surgery and discuss the risks involved. They should also discuss the expected results. If any of this is unclear or unacceptable, ask follow-up questions to clarify.
If your surgeon hasn’t taken time to help you understand all the details, find another surgeon. As a hand surgeon involved in aesthetic and reconstructive surgeries here at Cohen/Winters, I take pride in outlining the surgical plan for the patient and help them achieve their goals for hand function after surgery. I always seek to ensure understanding so that the patient has the proper expectations and knows what will occur.
There may be a range of possible outcomes from your hand surgery, depending upon where you’re starting from (how severe your hand problem is) and other factors previously mentioned. Hand surgery is quite safe, however, as with all surgeries, there are risks.
I will recommend a hand surgery procedure only if I believe that the benefits to the patient far outweighs the risks. In the end, whether to go forward is the patient’s decision. That’s why all good hand surgeons want to make sure the patient has all the information they need to make their decision.
Confused About Hand Surgery Recovery Periods?
These average recovery times will give you a basic idea of your hand surgery recovery experience. However, remember that there are many variables involved.
You can learn more about how hand surgery can help your specific condition by talking to a hand specialist at Cohen/Winters Aesthetic & Reconstructive Surgery in Bergen County.
Depending upon the treatment needed, we’ll help you estimate how much time you should take off from work — and how long it will take for complete recovery with maximum pain relief and freedom of movement. Contact us for a consultation!