Hand and Wrist Surgery: Frequently Asked Questions

Plymouth Orthopaedic and Sports Injury Clinic

Will I be put to sleep for my operation?

Some hand surgery can be performed under local anaesthetic (a small area of the hand is made numb by an injection). More major operations require either regional anaesthetic / block (a region of the arm or the whole arm is made numb) or a general anaesthetic (being put to sleep).

Do I need to stay in hospital after my surgery?

The majority of patients go home on the same day as their operation (day case surgery). If a general anaesthetic has been used, the patient must be collected by a responsible adult who will stay with them overnight. Patients occasionally need to stay in hospital overnight for medical reasons and this will be arranged if it is required.

Will my hand be in a bandage after the surgery? 

Yes. The type of dressings, splints or plasters you will have after your surgery will depend on the nature of the operation and will be discussed with you prior to any surgery.

Will I be in a sling after my operation?

The hand needs to be kept elevated (above the level of the heart) for the first few days following the surgery until the risk of swelling has passed. For this reason, you are likely to have your arm placed in a sling after the operation. It is fine to take off the sling to use the hand for light, clean activity and to exercise any joints that are free of dressings. After use, the hand must be replaced in the sling and not allowed to hang down. After a few days, if there is no significant swelling the sling can be abandoned.

Can I get my hand wet after the surgery?

Wounds need to be kept clean and dry for about 2 weeks after the surgery.

Will I have stitches that need to be taken out?

Some types of wounds are closed using dissolvable stitches and others with non-absorbable stitches which need to be removed. Suture removal usually occurs between 7 and 14 days after the operation.

Will I need painkillers after the operation?

After minor procedures you may not require any painkillers, or you may need simple analgesics such as you might take for a headache (eg paracetamol). After more major procedures, you will be prescribed stronger painkillers as needed.

When will I be able to use my hand after the operation?

It is important to get your hand moving as soon as it is safe to do so following surgery. As many fingers as possible will be left free of the dressings to maintain movement and function. The degree to which you can use your hand after surgery will be discussed with you before your operation.

When can I drive after surgery?

The exact timing will depend both on the type of operation you have and the speed of your recovery. The DVLA rules state that patients can drive after hand surgery when they are safe to fully control the vehicle. You surgeon will give you advice and guidelines but it is your responsibility to drive only when you feel you have recovered sufficiently to be in full control of your car. Commercial drivers should consult their employer or DVLA.

Will I need time off work after the surgery?

This will depend on the type of surgery you have and the nature of the work that you do. In general terms, patients who do heavy labouring jobs will take longer to return to full work capacity. You may be able to return to work on lighter duties shortly after your surgery. Return to work should be discussed with your surgeon and employer prior to your operation.

How successful is hand surgery?

Some operations have extremely high success rates (trigger finger release 99%, carpal tunnel decompression 95%). Unfortunately this is not the case for all operations, but the vast majority of operations on the hand have success rates exceeding 70%. Your surgeon will be able to advise you specifically about the likely outcome of your operation.

What are the common and important risks of hand surgery?

  • Swelling, stiffness and bruising are common side effects of surgery which usually settle with time. Rarely, a more serious form of stiffness, swelling and pain develop following injury or surgery, which can persist.
  • Occasionally there are problems with wound healing or infection, though these complications are uncommon often in the hand
  • Scars are initially painful. The majority settle with time, although a scarred area never feels quite like normal skin again. Sometimes a scar remains sensitive.
  • There is a tiny risk of accidental damage occurring during the operation.
  • There is a small chance the operation does not work. Sometimes surgery is successful but the problem recurs in the future.
  • Anaesthetics carry some risks which are normally extremely small unless you have other health problems. The type of anaesthetic used will be chosen to minimise your risks and discussed with you.
  • Blood clots following routine hand surgery are virtually unheard of.