Exercises After Elbow Surgery

There are many reasons why your elbow might be aching: tennis elbow, a fracture, arthritis. No matter the reason, you might find that surgery is the only way to alleviate the pain. If this is the case, you'll want to be well informed about your recovery period, specifically what exercises you can perform post-surgery.

Make sure to take it slowly when coming back from elbow surgery.
Credit: spukkato/iStock/GettyImages

Reasons for Elbow Surgery

When you're experiencing chronic elbow pain and have exhausted all noninvasive methods of recovery, such as exercise and medication, surgery may very well be your best option. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are a handful of conditions that might require elbow surgery including:

  • Tennis elbow (inflammation of the elbow tendons due to muscle overuse in the arm)
  • A broken or fractured elbow
  • Throwing injuries
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome (nerve pain)
  • Arthritis of the elbow

Depending on the type of condition you're experiencing and its severity, your doctor will suggest the most appropriate procedure for you. In some cases, she will suggest doing an arthroscopic (minimally invasive) or traditional (open) surgery to repair fractures and resurface the elbow joint. In other cases, she may decide to perform a partial or full elbow replacement. Surgeons may also repair or reconstruct ligaments, or remove pressure from the nerve.

Read more: Causes of Upper Arm Muscle Pain

Your Recovery Timeline

How much you use your arm and when you start elbow physical therapy exercises will depend on the condition your elbow's in, so it's best to consult your surgeon regarding your recovery timeline.

In general, your surgeon may have you wait a few weeks before starting physical therapy after elbow surgery, especially if you have a splint. Within the first week, you may be able to begin range-of-motion exercises for your shoulder and spine.

After week 6, MedlinePlus says you should be able to incrementally increase daily activities to strengthen your elbow and arm. Be sure to consult your doctor regarding how much weight you can lift during this period.

By week 12, you should be able to lift heavier weights, though your post-surgery elbow may have some limitations. Ask your doctor about those limitations. You may also want to ask your physical therapist or doctor whether you can:

  • Lift weights heavier than 5 to 15 pounds
  • Perform certain sports
  • Do certain activities such as hammering or shoveling
  • Push or pull heavy objects
  • Exercise after elbow replacement

Read more: 7 Workout Injury Myths That Can Slow Your Recovery

Exercises After Elbow Replacement

You can begin doing exercises after surgery once advised by your physical therapist or surgeon. Types of exercises recommended by Nottingham University Hospitals include:

  • Sitting with your elbow supported by your leg, let your arm straighten out, but don't let it straighten all the way unless advised by your doctor or physical therapist. You can also do this exercise while lying down.
  • Again, sitting with your elbow supported by your leg, bend your elbow up to 90 degrees. Do not go further than 90 degrees unless a surgeon or therapist tells you otherwise. You can do this exercise lying down as well.
  • With your elbow supported by your leg, you can try turning your palm to face up and down.
  • Lying on your back, with your elbow on a pillow, bend and straighten your elbow as far as you can go. You can use your other hand for support if needed.
  • Lie on your back and try to raise your arm up and hold it as straight as possible. You may need to use your other hand for support.
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