Upper Extremity Surgery
What do I need to know before surgery?
The day before surgery (or on Friday for Monday surgery), a nurse will phone you at home or
work. She will let you know when to arrive at the hospital for surgery and where to go the
morning of surgery. If you do not hear from us by 2:00 pm, please call (608) 263-8804.
If you are scheduled for First Day Surgery, you may call (608) 265-8857 for instructions after
10:00 am on ___________________________________________.
If you have a cold, fever or other illness the day before surgery, please call your surgeon between
8:00 am and 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. If you need to reach us after hours or on the
weekend, please call the paging operator at (608) 262-0486 and ask to speak with the
anesthesiology resident on call. Give the operator your name and phone number with the area
code. The doctor will call you back.
What do I need to know after surgery?
Managing your pain and prevent swelling
Keep your hand and arm above the level of your heart. This will prevent, or greatly decrease,
both pain and swelling. Having your hand and arm elevated is most important in the first few
days. Some patients have swelling and/or pain longer than others. You should keep raising your
arm as long as you need to.
You may be given a sling. It depends on the type of surgery you had. The sling may help you to
raise your arm while walking. It is important to use the sling correctly. Your hand should rest up
high at heart level, your elbow should rest low at waist level. Your wrist and hand should be
fully supported inside the sling. If you can maintain elevation without a sling, you don’t need to
use it. When you are sitting or lying down, keep your arm above your heart using 2-3 pillows.
Pain will be different for each patient. While post-op pain will not completely go away, it can be
improved with elevation and over the counter medicines such as extra strength Tylenol® or
ibuprofen. If your surgery involved the bones, check with your doctor prior to taking ibuprofen.
For more extensive surgery or surgery involving bones, your doctor might prescribe narcotic pain
pills for you. The medicine may upset your stomach. Eating something first may help.
Take care of your dressing?
Your doctor will ask you to either keep your dressing in place until your clinic visit or ask that
you remove the dressing the following day. If the dressing needs to remain in place, you may
notice that it feels “tight” over the first postoperative day. If you are concerned that it is too tight,
first try a few hours of strict elevation. If it still seems that “it’s just not right,” please call the
clinic. We will ask you to come in and have it checked.
Keep your dressing and wound dry. If you should get the dressing or wound wet, you will need
to come in the same day (if you can) and have it changed. Leaving a wet dressing on can lead to
wound breakdown and infection. If your doctor allows you to shower, cover all of the dressing
with a plastic bag and tape the ends so no water can get onto the dressing.
If your doctor requests that you remove the dressing the day following surgery, you should
shower and clean the incision gently with soap and water. Cover the incision afterward with a
band-aid to help prevent irritation of the incision or sutures. Change the band-aid after showers
or if it becomes wet.
ξ Checking Fingers – look at your fingers twice a day. If you notice increased swelling,
numbness, tingling, change in color or temperature, call your doctor. Feel your fingertips
every 4-6 hours the first couple of days for warmth and look at their color. The fingers
should feel warm and the color should be your normal skin color.
ξ Taking your Temperature – Do daily for a week. Call your doctor if your temperature is
greater than 100.5 θ F or 38.1° C.
What activity can I do after surgery?
ξ The first couple of days resume your normal routines slowly.
ξ Rest your arm or hand to promote healing. Only do light activities that involve using your
fingers and thumb.
ξ Avoid heavy lifting while you have a dressing or cast. Your doctor will let you know if you
need to avoid certain movements.
ξ Your driving skills may be affected while your arm is immobilized. You will have decreased
coordination. Also, your reaction time will be decreased while you are taking narcotic pain
pills. Do not drink alcohol or drive while taking narcotic pain pills.
ξ Ask your doctor when you can return to work.
When should I call the doctor?
ξ Excessive swelling
ξ Increased numbness
ξ Cool fingertips
ξ A color change in your hand or fingers
ξ Signs of infection in the incision
- Warmth and/or redness
- Cloudy, pus-like drainage
- Excessive swelling
- Fever – temperature above 100.5 θ F or 38.1° C for two readings taken 4 hours apart
ξ Your splint is too tight, too loose, or broken
When will I have my follow-up clinic visits?
Your doctor may place a small drain in your incision at the time of surgery. If so, you may need
to come in early the next morning to have it removed. Before you go home on the day of surgery,
you will be given a time to have the drain removed and told where to meet your doctor.
If you would prefer to stay in Madison, the Housing Accommodations Office at
(608) 263-0315 can provide you with a list of nearby motels and arrange for your stay at a
discount rate. Some of the motels provide shuttle service.
You will also have a clinic visit in 7 to 10 days. We will arrange the date and time for you. The
purpose of this visit is to remove sutures and discuss your progress with your doctor.
Important Phone Numbers
If for any reason you feel you need to be seen before your scheduled visit, please call the clinic
between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm to discuss your concerns. We will talk with you about whether it
would be best to have you come in sooner.
Orthopedic Clinic Reception Desk 608-263-7540
After Hours, Nights and Weekends, please call (608) 262-0486. This will give you the paging
operator. Ask for the orthopedic resident on call. Give the operator your name and phone
number with the area code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call 1-800-323-8942.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #5426
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 8/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5076