Caring for Yourself After Your Orthopedic Procedure

This information will help you care for yourself after your orthopedic procedure.

Dressing and Wound Care

  • Follow these steps, unless your doctor gives you other instructions:
    • Do not remove or change the dressing for 2 days after your procedure.
    • After 2 days, you may remove the dressing. Replace it with clean, dry gauze.
    • Change the gauze every day and whenever it becomes wet or soiled.
  • Inspect your incision (surgical cut) each time you change the gauze. It may be covered with thin pieces of paper tape (Steri-Strips®). They should be left in place until they fall off or until your doctor removes them. Slight redness, swelling, tenderness, or a black-and-blue discoloration of the incision are normal.
  • Do not get your incision wet until you see your doctor after your surgery. Your sutures (stitches), staples, or both may be removed during this visit. Your doctor will tell you when you can wash it at that time.
  • Do not put lotions, ointments, or creams on your incision unless your doctor tells you to.
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  • Do not exercise, such as lifting or jogging, until your doctor tells you it’s safe. If you have any questions about playing any sports or other activities, ask your doctor.
  • Do not drive until your doctor tells you it is safe.
  • You may need a device after your procedure, such as a brace, splint, sling, cane, or crutches. Follow your doctor’s directions for any of these devices.
    • Crutches reduce the amount of weight placed on your leg or foot. Using crutches helps speed the healing process by taking pressure off of your bone. Using crutches correctly will prevent damage to nerves in your armpits or palms of your hands. Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist will show you how to use crutches before you leave the hospital.
    • If you need a sling for your arm, your doctor will tell you if you should use it while in bed.
  • Keep the arm or leg you had surgery on above the level of your heart when you’re sitting or lying down. This will decrease or prevent swelling.
    • If you had surgery on your leg, do not sit with your legs lower than the level of your heart for more than 2 hours at a time. Lie in bed, on a couch, or in a recliner with your leg resting on a pillow so it is higher than your heart. Change your position every 2 hours, whether you are sitting or lying down.
    • If your surgery was on an arm, rest it on pillows so it is above the level of your heart.
    • If you notice swelling in your arm or leg, elevate it more often. If the swelling does not get better, call your doctor or nurse.
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  • For at least 1 week after your procedure, you should not take certain medications unless your doctor tells you it is safe. Do not take any of the following without talking with your doctor first because they can cause bleeding:
    • Aspirin
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®)
    • Vitamin E
  • Take all your medications as instructed.
  • Pain medication can cause constipation. To help prevent constipation:
    • Drink at least 6 (8-ounce) glasses of non-caffeinated liquids every day. These drinks should not include alcohol.
    • Eat 5 to 9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day.
    • Ask your nurse or doctor about using a stool softener or laxative such as docusate sodium (Colace®) or senna (Senekot®). If you are taking narcotic pain medication, make sure to take the docusate sodium or senna as recommended by your nurse or doctor.
    • Call your doctor or nurse if you have not had a bowel movement in 3 days.
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Follow-up Appointment

Call your doctor’s office on the next business day after your procedure to make a follow-up appointment.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have:

  • Numbness, tingling, or burning of your fingers or toes
  • Pain not relieved by medication or pain that is getting worse
  • Drainage or a foul odor from your incision site
  • Trouble moving your fingers or toes
  • Increased swelling that does not get better when you raise the arm or leg you had surgery on
  • Fingers or toes that are very cold and do not get warm when you cover them
  • Increased redness around your incision
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A temperature greater than 100.4° F (38.0° C)
  • Any unexpected problems or concerns
  • Any questions

If you have chest pain or difficulty breathing, call 911. These symptoms are not common.

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