Serious hand complications can be crippling and seriously hinder one’s ability to enjoy life.
Whether due to crushing bone fractures, congenital deformities, torn tendons or from rheumatoid arthritis, severe hand conditions often inhibit a person’s ability to work effectively, play with children or grandchildren, dress themselves, or take pleasure in recreational and social activities.
When all hope is lost, hand reconstructive surgery may help patients regain normal function of their hand and alleviate the pain and discomfort experienced before the procedure.
“My thumb and hand are far greater today than I ever expected,” says Carolyn, a recent patient of Check C. Kam, M.D., a board certified orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper extremity treatment, at South Florida Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. “Here I am today, with the full use of my right dominant hand, and I feel very good about it.”
“I went into orthopaedics because I really enjoy the ability to fix things that are broken, restore the anatomy and make people’s hands and arms work better,” says Dr. Kam. “Carolyn’s case was unique, and it was a challenge to restore full function in her hand, but we are very glad to have been able to help.”
What is Reconstructive Hand Surgery and How is it Performed?
Hand reconstruction surgery involves techniques to repair trauma to the hands and forearms including smashed bones, congenital deformities, repetitive stress injuries, arthritis disfigurement and similar ailments affecting the skin, nerves and joints.
Depending on the type of injury or deformity, surgery times will vary. Most intricate hand reconstructive surgeries can be performed as day cases, though this will depend on each patient’s individual requirements and the complexity of the problem. It can take up to six or more hours for elaborate hand bone reconstruction.
An anaesthetic will generally be provided, ensuring the patient will remain relaxed and pain-free during the procedure. The patient normally lies on their back with their arm and hand extended on a platform. The surgeon may use a variety of instruments such as a knife, small forceps, dissecting scissors, clamps and mosquito hemostats. A specialized drill with tiny steel points is used to drill holes in bone during reconstructive bone surgery. Venous and skin grafts may also be employed. Following the restoration of the bones, nerves, and blood vessels, the surgeon seals the wound and wraps it with a dressing.
In certain situations, a patient’s hand may need multiple procedures over a period of time to achieve full repair.
How Long Will it Take to Recover from Reconstructive Hand Surgery?
It’s important to recognize that individual healing times may vary depending on a variety of factors including extent of the injury, patient age, overall level of health, lifestyle and type of surgery. As the hand is an extremely delicate part of the body, the surgeon will usually prescribe some form of post-op pain medication, either injections or oral medication.
Surgeons will often stress to their patients that surgery is just the first step in recovery. They may recommend occupational therapy under the guidance of a professional hand therapist, in order to accelerate the healing process and give the patient the best chance for a complete recovery. Therapy can include exercises, massage therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, splinting, and specialized bandages to control swelling. It’s important that patients diligently follow the therapist’s instructions and complete the entire course of therapy if they wish to regain the maximum use of their hand.
With a successful hand reconstructive surgery, Carolyn is thankful for being pain-free and for the complete recovery of her hand.
“One of the first things Dr. Kam said to me was, ‘I treat every patient as though they were a family member,’” Carolyn recalls. “I feel really good about my hand and I’m very grateful to Dr. Kam and what he did for me. He has a good heart.”