When you can return home after having hand surgery will depend on how badly your hand was damaged.
You may be able to go home on the same day, after you have recovered from any anaesthetic and arrangements have been made for your aftercare.
After the operation
If you had a general anaesthetic, you'll wake up in the recovery room after your operation. You may have an oxygen mask on your face and feel a bit drowsy.
If you had a regional or local anaesthetic, you'll be able to go back to the ward sooner, but your arm will be numb and floppy for several hours.
It's normal for your hand to be elevated in a sling (a large, supportive bandage) to help reduce swelling.
Following the operation, your hand is likely to be bruised and swollen and, when the anaesthetic wears off, it'll be painful.
Before leaving hospital, you'll be advised to keep your hand above the level of your heart whenever possible to help reduce swelling.
For example, you may be advised to raise your arm on cushions while seated or to hold your arm up to your other shoulder while standing and walking.
You won't be able to drive for several weeks after the operation, so you'll need to arrange for someone to pick you up and take you home from the hospital.
If you live on your own and had a general anaesthetic, you may be advised to stay in hospital overnight.
You may also need to stay overnight if you need hand therapy in hospital before you go home.
Recovery and rehabilitation
Before you leave hospital, a hand therapist may replace the rigid plaster splint (a support designed to protect the hand) fitted during the operation with a lighter and more flexible plastic one.
This splint will help prevent the repaired tendons being overstretched.
You'll usually be advised to wear the splint at all times for 3 to 6 weeks, possibly followed by just wearing it at night for a further couple of weeks.
Your hand therapist will tell you how to look after your splint and what to do if you develop any problems with it.
It's important to avoid getting the splint wet, so covering it with a plastic bag while having a bath or shower will usually be recommended.
You'll be taught a number of different hand exercises after the operation, either before you leave hospital or at an appointment a few days later.
The exercises will help prevent the repaired tendons getting stuck to surrounding tissue, which would reduce your range of hand movements.
The specific exercises recommended by your hand therapist or surgeon will vary according to the type of tendon repair you had.
If you smoke, it's highly recommended that you stop. Smoking can impair the blood circulation in your hand and delay your recovery time.
Read more about stopping smoking.
Returning to work and activities
How quickly you can return to work and resume normal daily activities will depend on the nature of your job, as well as the type and location of your injury.
The repaired tendon will usually be back to full strength after about 12 weeks, but it can take up to 6 months to regain the full range of movement.
In some cases, it may never be possible to move the affected finger or thumb as much as before it was damaged.
In general, most people are able to:
- resume light activities, such as using a keyboard or writing with a pen, after 6 to 8 weeks
- drive a car, motorcycle or heavy goods vehicle (HGV) after 8 to 10 weeks
- resume medium activities, such as light lifting or shelf stacking, after 8 to 10 weeks
- resume heavy activities, such as heavy lifting or building work, after 10 to 12 weeks
- resume sporting activities after 10 to 12 weeks
Your hand therapist or surgeon will be able to give you a more detailed estimate of your likely recovery time.
It's vital that you follow all the instructions and advice given to you regarding the use of your hands during your recovery period.
If you attempt to use the repaired tendons before they have fully healed, it could cause the repair to rupture (break or split).
After having hand surgery, you should be careful when carrying out everyday activities such as:
- squeezing toothpaste tubes or shampoo bottles
- getting out of the bath
- opening doors
- getting dressed and undressed, as your hand can catch on your clothing
Page last reviewed: 14 June 2018
Next review due: 14 June 2021