Healing from Elbow Surgery with Holistic Modalities

by | May 18, 2021 | 3 comments

Elbow Surgery and Holism

If you’ve had elbow surgery and are looking for additional tools to cope, this article is for you. Having experienced many complications after elbow surgery, I needed to find options.

Sure, I needed pain medicine fresh out of elbow surgery. I kept my arm elevated and cleaned the incision scar. I attended the required occupational therapy (OT) sessions to regain functionality.

But, unfortunately, I wasn’t getting better. I wasn’t progressing as fast as me or my care team had hoped. Still dealing with pain, weeks after elbow surgery, I had to integrate holistic care.

Balancing Western Medicine and Holistic Health After Elbow Surgery

Before I share a few holistic practices, I want to point out I’m not suggesting you stop your elbow surgery treatments. Definitely be sure to:

  • Follow up with your surgeon
  • Keep appointments with your physical or occupational therapist
  • Do the exercises recommended for recovery
  • Stay in contact with your primary care provider
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Adhere to any restrictions placed upon you

You see, holism isn’t the only way to heal. Just as Western or conventional medicine isn’t the only way to get better. It’s complementing one with the other. It’s doing what you need to do from your care team’s perspective… as well as doing healthy things that allow you to feel whole.

Three Holistic Practices After Elbow Surgery

Again, as someone who had elbow surgery and suffered numerous complications, I know how it feels. I can empathize with how frustrating recovery can become. I used these, among other, holistic practices to support my total wellbeing.

1) Positive Self-Talk

Before you think, “Oh, this is fairytales and wishful nonsense,” skimming down the page, stop.

Fracturing your elbow is a life-changing event. Your arm was broken in half, and after surgery, was put back together. And, I’m sure it looks weird and gross and unlike you. Right?

Your arm appears new and strange. At times, I didn’t even want to look at it. That gnarly scar, screaming, “You’re nasty!”

Guess what? All of those subconscious thoughts of dislike or blame or disgust… all of those negative feelings harbored within you… that impact your elbow and healing after surgery.

Action follows thought. Thought is about intention. Loving kindness and self-compassion support healing. Instead of looking at your arm after elbow surgery and thinking, “This sucks; my arm is awful!” Why not speak kindly about yourself?

Trust me, I didn’t want to do this. I felt weird, fraudulent at times. But I knew that my elbow was a part of me. My arm didn’t deserve a verbal beating. I’d suffered enough and decided it was time to embrace my elbow.

Two ways I shifted, practicing positive self-talk, were with mirror chats and evening massage.

Mirror chats can feel weird, at first. Sure, looking at your elbow and talking to yourself aloud in your mirror feels odd. And, then, it becomes magical. My goodness… the compassion that you can cultivate by looking at your arm – yourself, really – and saying to you, “It’s OK. You are beautiful. I love you just as you are…” Wow. Powerful stuff.

In the evenings, my OT suggested that I massage my own arm in order to get its feeling capabilities back to normal after elbow surgery. My elbow was hypersensitive and touching any surface or fabric to it felt uncomfortable. So, the more I touched my elbow, the more “normal” touches felt to it.

I would sit, grab some soothing lotion, and massage my arm. I’d rub the forearm, triceps, biceps and even my elbow, loosening the muscles. Sometimes, I’d even work kind words into the massage. Two for one!

Either way, consider how you are thinking or talking about your elbow. Is it in a loving, healing way?

2) Yoga and Qigong

Or, any type of gentle movement!

For me, yoga and qigong became my lifelines after elbow surgery. Being a very active person by nature, I just couldn’t sit still. However, I also couldn’t lift weights, go for a jog, or ride my bike. So, I needed gentle, flowing movements to keep me exercising.

Additionally, yoga and qigong link mind, body, breath, and energy. As stated above, practices like these allow us to complement Western medicine with holistic remedies. The very nature of breathing, moving the body with breath, and activating energy within can do wonders for healing.

And, think about it. After elbow surgery, there’s a strong chance that you have a limited range of motion. Both yoga and qigong aren’t about doing more. Rather, these holistic activities are about being with what is occurring now.

So, you have a bum elbow? So what! Yes, you may not be able to open a jar or put your hair up in a ponytail. But you can still flow, gently.

Yoga and qigong can help us reduce stress after elbow surgery. These healing arts can lower tension, improve mood, and even help us enjoy a better night’s sleep.

This leads us to…

3) Rest, Relaxation, and Healthy Boundaries

As I said, I was/am an active human being. At times, I can’t sit still. Yet, constantly going, always doing, and being more, more, more aren’t healthy either.

Just like balancing Western medicine with holistic health, we need to rest as much as we do.

My OT harped on my getting a good sleep. In fact, early on during OT, she’d even ask me how I was sleeping at night.

One time, my OT made me a splint to wear during the night in an attempt to get my arm to become unstuck. But guess what? She said to me, “Elizabeth, if this splint starts to hurt you and interferes with your sleep… take it off! It’s more important to me that you rest, as it restores your healing capacities.”

So, check yourself. How are you sleeping? Are you able to sleep through the night? If not, speak to someone on your treatment team about your sleep. You definitely need quality rest in order to heal from elbow surgery.

In addition to sleeping during the night, you also need to pay attention to your rest during the day. Are you taking breaks between activities? Elbow surgery recovery can certainly be exhausting. The physical drain, the mental frustration, and the emotional overwhelm can take a toll. Engage in restful periods throughout your day.

One final thought. If you don’t feel like talking, responding, interacting, or answering… guess what? You don’t have to, right away at least! When you are resting… if someone reaches out to see how you are doing and if you’re too tired to respond… just let it be for now. When you’re feeling up to it or when you’re finished with your resting time, then you can answer back.

After an injury as large as this, people are going to be reaching out to see how they can help you. While it’s a lovely, kind gesture… it also becomes tiring. It’s OK to set boundaries, if you need to. Listen to yourself and honor what you need.

Ready to heal after elbow surgery? Check us out and come join us!

About the Author: Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, HNB-BC 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 also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.


  1. Mary Pat Messina

    Elizabeth – thank you. This article makes a lot of sense. I am recovering from a revision surgery for my knee replacement, and it occurred to me that these practices apply to any joint surgery and repair,. My knee scar looks very similar to your elbow. I would like to find a beginner Qi gong or chair yoga, since I cannot get on the floor with my knees. I would welcome your suggestions. Good luck with your continued recovery!

    • Elizabeth

      Hello Mary Pat,

      You are so welcome! I am glad that you enjoyed the blog post.

      And, you’re so right!! These practices could TOTALLY apply to any joint repair or surgery.

      You are in luck! I have a load of beginner qigong and chair yoga videos. They are all slow paced, beginner style, and not long (as I cannot tolerate lengthy exercise activities at this point either).

      You can check out my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/ElizabethScala/playlists.
      You can also consider joining us Friday’s at 1 pm EST for a weekly gentle yoga class: https://www.facebook.com/LivingSublimelyWell.
      And, the videos on this website are also available to you for free: https://elizabethscala.com/video/

      Let me know if you have further questions or need anything at all.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      • Barb

        Hi Elizabeth, I’m sorry about your surgery, I follow you but had not realized you had injured yourself. I empathize because in 2009 I shattered my radial head and had to have surgery also so I understand the long rehab and discomfort. I fortunately didn’t have crps and healed though it was a little more than a year for me to get almost full ROM. I was fortunate to find a Rolfer who helped me through the final stages of rehab. I returned to her for a series of tx’s several times to increase function. Wish you all the best in your continued healing. Blessings


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