You will have some pain. Your doctor can give you medicine for this. A large bandage will cover your stitches (sutures). Your arm may be in a splint or a cast. These are all removed in about 7 to 10 days. You may have a smaller splint for about 2 weeks. You will not be able to use your arm during this time. You will need help doing anything that usually takes two hands.
You will need a rehabilitation program (rehab) that includes exercises to stretch and strengthen the elbow. Your doctor will advise you when to do gentle range-of-motion or gripping exercises after surgery. You will first have training and help, and then you will do the program on your own. Your exercises may be painful at first. In 3 to 6 months, the pain should go away, and you should have good movement in your elbow. You may need to do strength exercises for as long as 1 year.
You will be able to return to daily activities in about 2 to 6 weeks. You can go back to work in 3 to 12 weeks, depending on your job. You should be able to play sports again in 4 to 6 months. You may need a brace at work and when you play sports that stress the elbow and forearm, such as tennis.
This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
- Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk.
- Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
- You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Keep your bandage dry by covering it with plastic. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
- Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
- You will be able to return to daily activities in about 3 to 6 weeks and go back to work in 6 to 12 weeks, depending on your job.
- You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
- Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
- If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
- Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
- If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
- If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
- Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
- Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
- If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision), leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
- If you have a bandage, keep it on until the incision heals. You may change it if it gets dirty.
- Elbow and arm rehabilitation is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. This helps you get back your elbow's and arm's range of motion and strength. You will work with your doctor and physical therapist to plan this exercise program. To get the best results, you need to do the exercises correctly and as often and as long as your doctor tells you.
Ice and elevation
- Put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
- Prop up the sore elbow on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
- To prevent tennis elbow from returning, you may have to adjust your tennis racquet's size and string tightness, and your grip.
- Start slowly with activities that use repeated movement. If your elbow or arm starts to hurt, stop and rest.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
- You have signs of infection, such as:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
- Red streaks leading from the incision.
- Pus draining from the incision.
- A fever.
- You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
- Your bleeding continues after surgery, or it has soaked through your bandage.
- Your hand is cool or pale, or it changes color.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You notice more tingling or weakness in your hand.
- You are sick to your stomach or cannot keep fluids down.
- You are not getting better as expected.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter N649 in the search box to learn more about "Tennis Elbow Surgery: What to Expect at Home".
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth J. Koval MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma