What is hand surgery?

Problems or diseases of the hands can cause tremendous concern as using our hands is integral to our daily lives. Even a small degree of discomfort or a mild deformity can cause serious consequences. Orthopaedics at Main Line Health has locations throughout Philadelphia, providing clinical and surgical expertise for many different types of hand conditions, including:

How are hand conditions diagnosed?

Some hand conditions need to be diagnosed through surgery, depending on what is causing the condition. In general, a hand condition may need the following procedures to help in the diagnosis:

  • Complete history and physical exam. Your doctor will need to know your age, hand preference, occupation, and any history of other problems with the hand. For injuries, your doctor may also need to know:
    • Type of injury that occurred
    • When and where the injury occurred
    • Other information about the injury. For example, was it related to work? Was the hand injured with a contaminated piece of machinery or chemical?
    • Position of the thumb during the injury or fall
  • Your health history, including tetanus vaccine status and current medicines

In some cases, a diagnosis can be made simply based on a physical exam. But you may need the following tests to help confirm the diagnosis, or the extent of the problem:

  • Arthrography
  • Bone scintigraphy
  • CT scan
  • Electromyogram (EMG)
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Video fluoroscopy
  • X-ray

What can I expect after surgery?

Recovery after surgery depends greatly on the type of surgery you had and the underlying cause of your hand condition. Sometimes, you'll need a series of surgical procedures to address your condition. The hand is intricate and very sensitive. Mild to severe pain may be expected after many types of hand surgeries. Pain medicines may be given to help ease the discomfort. Elevation of the affected area can be very helpful.

The following are some of the other possible outcomes that you may be told to expect after surgery:

  • Your hand may be immobilized in a bandage or splint after surgery. Your doctor will decide the length of time of the immobilization. After some surgeries, the hand may be immobilized for months at nighttime to enhance recovery.
  • You may have some restrictions placed on activities and work after the surgery. This also will be determined by your doctor, based on an individual basis.
  • Rehabilitation may be recommended to increase the strength and function of the hand. Rehabilitation may include physical therapy and/or occupational therapy. A trained specialist will be involved in your care to optimize recovery of the hand.

Therapy of the hand may include the following:

  • Exercises for the hand
  • Heat therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Splinting
  • Traction
  • Nerve stimulation

In many cases, surgery is just the start of recovery. Intensive rehabilitation may be necessary to regain optimal functioning of the hand. It’s important to follow all of the instructions given to you after surgery by your doctor and any other specialists who are involved in your care.

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