What is surgical realignment of the hand, wrist or elbow?

When you break a bone, your doctor needs to realign the bones so they can heal properly. Breaks in the hands, wrists, elbows and upper extremities are among the most common fracture injuries. This is because you use your arms to brace yourself when you fall.

In many instances, doctors can realign the bones manually. That means they put the bones back into place with their hands. Sometimes, it may be necessary for the doctor to put the bones back into position using surgery. This is surgical realignment.

This surgery is important not only for healing, but for preventing more problems in the future. Surgical realignment prevents stiffness in the joints. It can keep arthritis from developing and prevent you from getting an infection in your injury.

What to expect from surgical realignment of the hand, wrist or elbow

Your doctor confirms the break using X-rays to see pictures of what your bones look like. If it's an open break — coming through the skin — then your doctor may perform the surgery within eight hours of the injury happening.

Your doctor makes an incision in the skin directly above the broken bones. They put the bones back into position. Pins, screws or plates keep the bones in place while they heal. The surgeon also cleans the bones and soft tissues to remove damaged and broken fragments and help prevent infection.

Your doctor may need to use an external fixator to hold the bones in position. This is a frame that stabilizes your bones from outside of your body.

After the doctor stitches up your incisions, they put a cast on your arm to stabilize the broken bones. Your doctor may replace this cast after the swelling from the injury and surgery have gone down. If you have a cast, you need to wear it for about six weeks.

Your doctor gives you medication to manage your pain during recovery. Your doctor may also refer you to physical therapy help with strength and range of motion.

Common hand, wrist and elbow conditions requiring surgical realignment

Nearly any bone in the body that breaks or becomes dislocated can have a surgical realignment. These are common in the upper extremity Accidents, trauma, sports and other activities can all cause fractures or dislocations. Some common fractures include:

  • Colles fracture
  • Elbow fracture
  • Finger fracture
  • Boxer's fracture
  • Scaphoid fracture
  • Distal radius fracture

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