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Returning to Activity After Elbow Replacement Surgery

You’ll need to take it easy after elbow replacement surgery. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t be reasonably active. 

In the months following your elbow replacement surgery, you'll likely be advised to take it easy, and follow specific instructions from your doctor or physical therapist before returning to daily activity. 

Exact timing differs by individual and the ability to return to your “normal” routine depends on what your “normal” is. As early as the day of surgery, most patients will be up, moving, and starting a light physical therapy program. It will likely be uncomfortable at first, and should gradually improve as the muscles and tissues around the elbow heal and get stronger.  

Depending on the way your elbow surgery is performed, there may be some positions or motions your surgeon wants you to avoid for a period of time to make sure the elbow heals properly. You may be given permanent activity restrictions to help protect your new joint. Patients with sedentary or office jobs may be able to return to work quicker than those with more physically demanding jobs. 

If you’re wondering when you can drive again, it really depends on your specific surgery. The most important thing about driving is that you feel comfortable and safe behind the wheel. This typically means you’ll need to be off any narcotics. As a general rule, it could be anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks before your doctor clears you to drive again.

You should be able to shower within a few days of surgery. Patients typically receive instruction about when it’s safe to remove your bandage. You’ll likely be advised to steer clear of hot tubs and pools until your incision is nicely healed in about 3 to 6 weeks.

You may be excited at the possibility of firing up your sex life again, especially if joint pain has put a damper on it over the past several years. Most doctors will let you resume sexual activities as soon as you feel able, typically in about 4 to 6 weeks. The key is making sure that you don’t do anything that could cause a problem with your new joint while you are healing. 

In many cases, successful elbow replacement surgery will relieve your pain and stiffness, and allow you to resume many of your normal daily activities. But, even after you have fully recovered from your surgery, you may have some restrictions. Normal daily activities do not typically include high-impact sports or activities that put excessive strain on your elbow. Talk to your doctor about what he or she deems safe for your particular condition. Before attempting any new activities, talk to your surgeon to see if they feel you are ready. You’ll likely continue to heal and improve for at least 6 months, so patience is key. Some patients say they continue to improve even longer.
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Timothy Codd, paid Zimmer Biomet consultant.

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