Hand surgery is a very common type of surgery that many Americans undergo every year for a variety of conditions, from replacing torn tendons to repairing arthritic joints. Because of how much we rely on the use of our hands, recovering from hand surgery can be a long and tedious process.
Luckily, there are strategies to help make the recovery process tolerable while also expediting your healing process following hand surgery. Keep reading to find out more!
Hand Surgery Overview: Types of Hand Surgery
Hand surgery is necessary for a variety of ailments affecting the fingers and wrist. Hand surgeons are orthopedic surgeons that have specialized in surgeries of the upper extremities, including the hands. Depending on the extent of damage to your hand, plastic surgeons may also be involved in reconstructing your hand to improve aesthetic appearance and functionality.
So, why might you need hand surgery? Here are a few conditions that may require surgical intervention.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that results from a combination of genetic factors, overuse, and/or injury. The condition is called carpal tunnel because it affects the carpal tunnel, which is a structure in the wrist that houses tendons and nerves that connect the hand with the rest of the arm. Individuals with carpal tunnel experience numbness in the hands and fingers, because the carpal tunnel becomes inflamed or injured and puts pressure on the median nerve.
Surgeons are able to perform carpal tunnel release surgery to mitigate symptoms. This procedure requires a surgeon to make incisions in ligaments in the wrists that are exerting pressure on the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel release surgery can alleviate wrist pain and hand pain.
Another similar syndrome is cubital tunnel syndrome, which involves compression of the ulnar nerve that results in numbness in the fingers. However, unlike carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome requires elbow surgery to relieve nerve pressure.
Trigger finger results in the inability to straighten out the finger. In a normal finger, flexor tendons are responsible for helping you bend your finger, and bands of tissue called pulleys help keep the tendons in line with the finger bone. If these pulleys become inflamed or damaged, tendons cannot operate normally, and your finger may get jammed or locked in a bent position. If trigger finger is unresponsive to nonoperative treatments, hand surgery may be required to release the pulley stiffness.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that impacts joints throughout the body, especially those in the hands. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms in the fingers, including stiffness, swelling, and pain. Over time, arthritis can severely hinder quality of life by causing pain and limiting the utility of joints. Surgeons can conduct joint replacements in the fingers to restore mobility to the fingers. During a joint replacement surgery, an inflamed joint is replaced with an artificial joint.
A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled lump that develops most commonly on the joints in your hands and wrists. Ganglion cysts are filled with tend to be spherical in shape and can vary greatly in size. Some are very small and are unnoticeable, and often resolve on their own. Others are large and put pressure on nerves that run through the wrist and hand, which may cause tingling and numb sensations. Surgical procedures may help reduce the pressure on nerves by draining the cyst of fluid or removing the cyst altogether.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is a condition that results from repetitive wrist movements. Over time, repeatedly moving the wrists in the same motion may cause inflammation of tendons that run through the inside of the wrists, along the thumbs. If you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, you may experience pain and swelling in the thumbs, especially when making grasping movements. Severe cases of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis may require surgery to reduce pressure on tendons in the wrist and thumb.
Hand injuries are very common because of the constant involvement of our hands in so many activities of everyday life. Hand injuries can encompass nerve injuries, tendon injuries, and soft tissue injuries. You may sustain an injury working with tools, cooking, or playing sports that affects your hand tendons and nerves in your hand. Depending on the type and extent of the injury and the part of the hand that is affected, you may require orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons to conduct nerve repairs, tendon repairs, and skin grafts. Depending on the type of injury, you may also need to research and make an appointment with a particular kind of hand specialist. For example, certain orthopedic surgeons specialized in sports medicine are experienced with sports injuries affecting the hand and wrist.
Hand injuries that cause significant damage may require microsurgery, which involves magnifying the subject using microscope technology. For example, repairing small blood vessels in the hand is important for restoring blood flow and maximum function. In order to properly repair blood vessels, microsurgery is required for utmost precision and accuracy. Repairing small blood vessels is also important during replantation surgery after a finger has been completely severed from the hand in serious accidents.
Because the hands are so involved in the activities we participate in throughout the day, they are also very prone to infection. Infections occur when bacteria or other microorganisms make their way into an opening on the surface of the skin. An infection commonly causes redness, oozing, pain, and inflammation. With severe infections, the affected area on your hand may develop an abscess, which is a confined, infected area that accumulates pus. Abscesses can be taken care of with a type of surgery called surgical drainage, in which infectious fluids are removed from the area.
How Long Does Pain Last After Wrist Surgery or Hand Surgery?
If you’ve recently undergone hand surgery or you are booked to undergo hand surgery soon, you may be wondering: why is my hand still swollen after surgery, how long does swelling last after hand surgery, and how long does it take for the pain to go away?
Swelling after surgery depends on the extent of the surgery. For example, swelling tends to last longer after replantation surgeries than after a tendon release surgery. For many procedures, you may see a marked improvement in swelling within a few days. For other procedures, swelling may take a week or two to improve.
To help your hand and wrist heal as quickly as possible, it’s important to follow aftercare instructions and take proper care of your healing hand.
Healing from Hand Surgery: Tips and Strategies
When you’re recovering from hand surgery, your hands and fingers might be out of commission for a little while. Luckily, there are ways to expedite the healing process.
1. Get Plenty of Rest
Resting and sleeping is a vital part of the recovery process, regardless of the surgery that you’re healing from. While we are asleep, the body works hard to repair any damaged tissues such as muscles, tendons, and skin tissue. Much of this repair work happens at night when our bodies don’t need to focus on carrying out activities of the day and can instead allocate resources towards healing wounds.
2. Do Not Overdo Hand Movements
While it’s important to engage in physical therapy and follow all of the instructions laid out by your surgeon and physical therapist, you don’t want to overdo it. Engaging in too much movement before you are cleared to do so can increase the risk of injury and actually prolong your recovery process. Plus, your surgeon will most likely instruct you to wear a splint during the immediate aftermath of the recovery process. Splints immobilize your hand and wrist, allowing them to heal quickly and efficiently.
3. Eating a Healthy, Balanced Diet
So it might not seem like the food we eat is not connected to healing. However, the truth is that the food you eat directly impacts the healing process following hand surgery. The foods you eat directly support the immune system and help the body expedite the healing process after hand surgery.
A healthy, balanced diet that supports healing after surgery is composed of the following foods:
- Healthy fats: Keep in mind that not all fats are bad! Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are healthy fats that help lower inflammation and fuel your body with energy. To get more healthy fats in your diet, incorporate nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish into your diet.
- Fruits and veggies: Fruits and veggies are packed with micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are helpful for driving cellular processes forward. In particular, micronutrients help the immune system repair tissue damage quickly and efficiently. After your hand surgery, enjoy foods like spinach, kale, broccoli, sweet potato, apples, cherries, and blueberries.
- Fiber: Eating lots of fiber from whole grains, nuts, beans, seeds, fruits, and vegetables helps reduce inflammation in the body. Fiber feeds good bacteria in your gut, which then produce anti-inflammatory compounds that enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
- Protein: Protein is a vital component of a healing diet post-surgery. Protein is packed with essential amino acids, which your body needs to synthesize neurotransmitters, enzymes, hormones, muscle, collagen, and other soft tissues. When the body is recovering from a surgery or injury, it requires more essential amino acids than usual. You can get balanced ratios of essential amino acids from low-fat meat and dairy as well as fish. You can also get balanced ratios of essential amino acids from plant-based food sources like tofu, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. However, it’s important to combine many vegetable sources of protein throughout the day to ensure that you’re getting optimal ratios of essential amino acids.
4. Staying Hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated is critical for helping your body heal from any kind of surgery or illness. Fluids help keep your blood volume up so that your immune system can flush out waste while sending tissue-repairing particles to the area in need. Staying hydrated also helps the body circulate vitamins and antioxidants throughout the body, delivering healing compounds to the surgical site.
5. Engage in Physical Therapy
As you are cleared to move your hand, you will be advised to engage in physical therapy. Regular physical therapy helps your hand regain range of motion. Physical therapy sessions are vital for increasing flexibility in soft tissues, allowing for less scar tissue and less stiffness.
Hand Surgery: Conclusion
You might need hand surgery for all kinds of conditions affecting the hands, from carpal tunnel syndrome to rheumatoid arthritis. Hand surgery may include repairing any part of the hand, like the joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. Supporting a speedy hand surgery recovery entails eating healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, engaging in physical therapy, and following all aftercare instructions provided by your surgeon.