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Discharge Instructions for Total Elbow Replacement 

You had a procedure called total elbow replacement. Artificial elbow parts replace the surfaces of your damaged elbow. The artificial elbow has 2 parts. One part fits into your humerus (upper arm). The other part fits into your ulna (forearm). The resulting hinge allows your elbow to bend. Here’s what you need to know about home care after surgery.


  • Don’t use your affected arm to get out of bed or up from a chair. Use the other arm instead.

  • Don't lift anything with your affected arm after surgery until your doctor says it's OK. You won't be able to place any weight or resistance on your affected elbow for several weeks. 

  • Don't play contact sports such as basketball or football.

  • Don't do activities such as hammering, heavy or repetitive lifting, or activities that put too much strain on your elbow. Don't sweep, mop, or run the vacuum cleaner using your affected arm. Ask your doctor when you may resume these activities.

  • Do the exercises that you learned in the hospital, as instructed by your doctor.

Home care

  • Take your pain medicine exactly as directed.

  • Don’t be alarmed by some swelling around the incision. This is normal. Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid pressure on the incision.

  • Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas—or something similar—wrapped in a thin towel to reduce the swelling. Apply the ice pack for  20 minutes; then remove it for  20 minutes. Repeat as needed.

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about wearing and caring for a splint, sling, or dressing.

  • Shower as needed. Cover your elbow with plastic to keep it dry.

  • Don’t sleep on the side of your operation.

  • Prevent infection by washing your hands often. If an infection occurs, you will need immediate treatment. So call your doctor right away if you think you have an infection. Symptoms of infection include a fever, chills, increase redness at the incision site, or a wound that leaks white, green, or yellow fluid. You may also have a bad smell from the wound.

  • If you received an artificial joint, tell all your healthcare providers—including your dentist—about the joint. You may need to take antibiotics before certain procedures, including dental work, to reduce the risk for infection.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. 

Call 911

Call 911 right away if you have any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Increased pain with or without activity

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of  100.4°F ( 38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Shaking chills

  • Increased redness, tenderness, or swelling of the wound

  • Drainage from the incision or a bad smell

  • Opening of the incision

Online Medical Reviewer: Kenny Turley PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2019
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