Elbow Sleeves Put to Good Use!
If you’ve had elbow surgery and received elbow sleeves during recovery, then this article is for you.
Elbow Sleeves After Surgery
So, not sure if it was me, my surgeon, or a combination of both… but, I had no idea what to expect after elbow surgery. My surgeon just kept saying, “We want to get you moving as soon as possible…” At my 10-day post-operation visit, the surgical team removed the hard cast. On that very same day, I was sent straight over to occupational therapy (OT). Just as the surgeon told me over and over again, they wanted to get my elbow moving quickly.
Occupational Therapy Overload
My first day at OT was a whirlwind. There were patients at the OT office doing exercise on their own at little tables. The OT staff was busily moving about, between seeing patients and doing office tasks. I was asked to sit down and fill out a bunch of intake paperwork. My first thought… “Sheesh, how am I going to fill out these forms? My elbow is still bent in place, hurting, and waiting to start OT…” (Yes, I injured my writing hand.) The OT therapist came quickly to me, introducing herself and telling me that she was going to make me a removable splint. She had the OT tech measure my arm so that she could cut me an elbow sleeve.
Elbow Splint… Definitely Not My Friend
After a flurry of activity, I was given a bright blue hard plastic splint with navy Velcro straps. The splint looked clunky and painful… and, I didn’t even have it on yet! The OT staff came over with the elbow sleeves first. They had me shimmy my hand into the sleeve and slowly pull it up over my bent elbow. Let me tell you… the first few times I tried to get the elbow sleeve on was not fun. My elbow hurt and I experienced a lot of pain. Anyway, I was sent home with a few elbow sleeves and my splint. I was to wear the splint between exercises and until the surgeon instructed the OT staff it was OK for me to no longer wear it.
Four Ways to Use Elbow Sleeves
Well, time went on, and eventually, I graduated from OT (meaning, I didn’t have to go anymore). As I journeyed through the world of elbow recovery, and experienced complications along my healing path, I started to accumulate a lot of “elbow gear” around my home. Needless to say, I had more than one elbow sleeve. Since the sleeves would wear out, become dirty, or just somehow no longer fit… I would have the OT staff cut me new sleeves time and time again. I must have ended up with at least half a dozen elbow sleeves. Anyway, instead of wasting the sleeves… I’ve come up with new and fun ways to put them to good use!
1) Decorating Elbow Sleeves
As you might imagine, elbow sleeves are just white mesh material. They are thin and breathable so that you can wear them underneath elbow splints or other devices. Well, a boring white elbow sleeve wasn’t going to cut it. I’m into flashy, loud colors. I love floral prints and tie-dye clothing. So, the first thing I did was decorate my sleeve! And, if you’re going through elbow recovery, you might consider this too. It can be very cathartic to decorate something that you have to wear every day. By now, I’m sure that you can guess what I did with my sleeves… That’s right! I tie-dyed my elbow sleeves. That way, when I put the sleeve on under my splint, I at least had some fun colors to look at… even if I was still in a bunch of physical pain. You gotta find things that make you smile.
2) Doing Physical/Occupational Therapy Exercises
As I said, I had to attend OT during elbow recovery. (You may attend physical therapy… or occupational therapy… they’re essentially the same thing, just some certification semantics.) Anyway, I was required to attend OT three times a week. And that went on for about four months. Golly, that was a lot of OT sessions! Since I couldn’t drive, I had my neighbor and coworker helping me with rides back and forth from OT. I felt awful, but I needed help. And, of course, there were times when I just couldn’t find somebody to drive me. On the days I couldn’t make it into the OT office, I improvised. Guess what!? I found a way to do my OT exercises at home, using household items. In fact, one exercise that was prescribed to me, it turned out… I needed my elbow sleeves to help me. In order to strengthen my triceps muscles, I had to put my arm up against a wall and push my palm down towards the ground. I needed some type of strap, sleeve, or resistance band to push my palm against. Ding! Ding! Ding! My elbow sleeve came into play again! Since I didn’t have a resistance band or strap to do the exercise with, I tried it out with the sleeve. It worked wonders. Since the sleeve is kind of stretchy, it served as a great resistance band for me to press against. Phew… one more OT exercise that I could do from the comfort of my own home.
3) Avoiding Sunburn
At the time of writing this article, I’m nine months out of surgery. And, yes, I don’t have to wear a splint or anything like that anymore. Well, it’s been sunny and warm, as the seasons come and go. So, during spring and summer, I have, of course, been outside doing things that any “normal” person would do. Even just sitting on a bench, feeling the sunshine, I noticed something interesting with my healing elbow. It tended to get sunburned faster than the rest of my arm! That’s right… my elbow area seemed sensitive to the sun. As I talked about this with my husband, it started to make more sense. When I fell off of my bike, I had a gnarly cut. In fact, the cut was so deep that the surgeon couldn’t operate right away and had to wait for the road rash to heal. So, my skin is very thin there and feels different from the rest of my arm. Then, you have the surgery scar itself. Anyone who’s had surgery knows that the scar is then a very sensitive skin area going forward. Well, I didn’t want to burn my elbow but I still wanted to get outside to garden, hike, and sit on the beach. Elbow sleeves to the rescue again! I noticed I would cover my left elbow area, when I was out in the sun, without even thinking about it. I’d just grab whatever was nearby, but sometimes the fabric I wrapped my arm in was heavy or hot. The mesh sleeve was breathable and light. Ta-da! Another innovative way to use the elbow sleeve. Now, when I am outside in the sun for a long period of time, I grab my tie-dyed elbow sleeve and happily enjoy nature without the fear of getting burned.
4) Sleeping Soundly
This next suggestion may or may not pertain to you. But here we go… I’m a very light sleeper. Been that way all of my life. Well, after elbow surgery and through the healing process, that sleep has become even more precious to me. I use a mask while I sleep. You know, like what they give you on the airplane during long international flights. Anyway, those masks can be quite pricey. And, being frugal (as my husband likes to say, “el cheapo”), I looked at my elbow sleeves and came up with another idea! I decided to wrap the sleep around itself and add a string in the back. Voila! A homemade sleeping mask. And guess what? Using the elbow sleeves for my sleeping mask has actually been better than some of the store-bought ones. Again, back to the fact that the sleeve is mesh, light, and breathable, I’ve found that they’re so much more comfortable than some of the heavier sleeping masks that I’ve gotten before.
About the Author: Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, HNB-BC, RYT (200) is a board-certified holistic nurse, registered yoga instructor, and reiki master. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is a certified coach, nature lover, and avid meditator. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull. She enjoys gardening, jigsaw puzzles, farming, music, and hiking.