Elbow replacement - discharge

You had elbow replacement surgery to replace your elbow joint with artificial joint parts (prosthetics). Your surgeon made an incision or cut in the back of your upper or lower arm. Your surgeon removed any damaged tissue and parts of the bones that make up your elbow. Then your surgeon put your artificial joint in place and closed your incision with sutures (stitches).

You received pain medicine and learned how to manage swelling around your new artificial elbow joint.

What to Expect at Home

Your elbow area may feel warm and tender for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery.

For the first week after surgery, you will probably have a soft splint on your arm to hold your elbow in place. Some people need to use a harder splint or brace that has a hinge once their incision has healed

You will need help with everyday activities, such as shopping, bathing, preparing meals, and household chores, for up to 6 weeks. Consider making some changes around your home so it is easier for you to take care of yourself.

It will probably be 3 weeks before you can drive. Your doctor or physical therapist will tell you when it is okay.

You may be able to start using your elbow as soon as 12 weeks after surgery. But, full recovery can take up to a year.


Be sure to ask your doctor what specific limits you have. How much you can use your arm and when you can start using it will depend on the condition of your elbow. It will be different for different people.

Your doctor will prescribe physical therapy to help you gain strength and use of your arm. If you have a splint, you may need to wait a few weeks to start therapy.

  • Ask your doctor if you can begin to increase your range of motion in your elbow by gently opening and closing your elbow joint. If you have pain or problems with your incision when you do this, you may be doing this exercise too much.
  • Putting ice on the joint after the exercise may be soothing.

After the first week, you may be able to use your splint only during the night when you are asleep. Ask your doctor. Even when your splint is off, you will need to avoid carrying anything or using your arm to pull anything.

By 6 weeks, you should be slowly increasing daily activities to help make your elbow and arm stronger.

  • Do not lift anything heavier than 1 to 2 pounds when you do your exercises. Ask your doctor or physical therapist how much you should be lifting.
  • You may also need to do shoulder and spine range-of-motion exercises.

By 12 weeks, you should be able to lift more weight. Ask your doctor what other activities you can do now.

Ask your doctor what sports and other activities are okay for you to do after you recover. Before you start any activity or move your arm for any reason, be aware of the right way to use your elbow. Ask your doctor about any other activities that you want to do:

  • Lift anything heavier than 10 to 15 lbs for the rest of your life
  • Play golf or tennis, or throw objects (such as a ball) for the rest of your life
  • Do any activities that make you lift your elbow over and over, such as shoveling or shooting basketballs
  • Do jamming or pounding activities, such as hammering
  • Do impact sports, such as boxing or football
  • Do physical activities that need quick stop and start motions or twisting with your elbow
  • Push heavy objects

Wound Care

The stitches on your wound will be removed about 1 week after surgery. You will need to keep your incision clean and dry for 2 weeks. Also keep the dressing over your incision clean and dry. You may change the dressing every day if you like.

Do NOT shower until after your follow-up appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will tell you when you can begin taking showers. When you do start showering again, let the water run over the incision, but do not let the water beat down on it. Do NOT scrub. Wash your incision gently and pat it dry.

Do NOT soak the wound in a bathtub, hot tub, or swimming pool.

See also: Surgical wound care


Pain is normal after elbow replacement surgery. It should ease up over time.

Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicine. Get it filled when you go home so that you have it when you need it. Take your pain medicine when you start having pain. Waiting too long to take it will allow your pain to get more severe than it should.

Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medicine may also help. Ask your doctor what other medicines are safe to take with your pain medicine.

Do NOT drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicine. This medicine may make you too sleepy to drive safely.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if:

  • Blood is soaking through your dressing and the bleeding does not stop when you put pressure on the area
  • Pain does not go away after you take pain medicine
  • You have swelling or pain in your arm
  • Your hand or fingers look darker than normal or are cool to the touch
  • You have redness, pain, swelling, or yellowish discharge from your incision
  • You have a temperature higher than 101 °F.
  • Your new elbow joint feels loose, like it is moving around

Alternate Names

Total elbow arthroplasty - discharge; Endoprosthetic elbow replacement - discharge


Surgical options for the arthritic elbow. Gallo RA, Payatakes A, Sotereanos DG. J Hand Surg [Am]. 2008 May-Jun;33(5):746-59. Review. PMID: 18590859

Azar FM, Calandruccio JH. Arthroplasty of the shoulder and elbow. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 8.

Update Date: 12/20/2012

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Dept of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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