Information for patients
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What is an extensor tendon?
The extensor tendons run from the muscle in the forearm into the hand where they attached to the bones of your thumb. These tendons enables you to straighten your thumb. A cut to these tendons is a serious injury and will require regular therapy to regain movement.
What is an extensor tendon repair?
This is surgery to repair the extensor tendon in your thumb.
Due to injury you have had surgery to repair the extensor tendon which moves your thumb. A cut to this tendon is a serious injury and after it has been repaired will require regular hand therapy to help you regain movement.
This is because your tendon will be very weak after being repaired; therefore it can break easily. Your hand will require care and attention for the next 3 months. This will allow the tendon to heal and regain strength without the risk of it breaking.
What can I expect after surgery?
You will have:
- A large bandage which you must not remove.
- Swelling around the area of injury. This is normal and should reduce over time. Elevating your hand above your heart can reduce this.
- Pain which is normal immediately after surgery. Please discuss this with your Hand Therapist.
- An appointment with the Hand Therapy Team within 1 week after your surgery.
How do I care for my wound?
Please do not remove any dressings yourself. Your Hand Therapist will assess, check and change your dressing at each appointment.
The wound on your hand may now be bigger than the original cut as to allow the Surgeon to fully inspect and repair the damage. Care has to be taken in order to minimise the risk of infection and this can be helped by keeping the dressing clean and dry.
You will have special stitches in the tendon as well as stitches in the skin. Stitches in the skin are either dissolvable, which dissolve in
2 – 3 weeks, or removable that will be taken out by your Hand Therapist 10 – 14 days after your operation.
It is very important that you check your wound for signs of infection, for example, redness, swelling, oozing, odour. If you have any of the above symptoms please contact the department, your GP or the Urgent Care Centre as soon as possible.
What exercises can I do?
After your operation you will follow a strict rehabilitation programme for 12 weeks. At your first appointment with your Hand Therapist you will be given specific exercises that should be completed regularly.
Please do not try your own exercises as this could cause damage to the tendon.
How should I care for my splint?
You will be provided with a plastic splint in order to protect your tendon repair. Your Hand Therapist will make you a splint to wear on your injured hand and forearm, which stops your thumb bending.
It must be worn continuously for 4 weeks, you must not use your injured hand while wearing the splint.
- Keep the splint clean and dry – cover in a plastic bag for showering/bathing.
- Keep away from sources of heat.
- clean the outside with baby wipes or a damp cloth.
You should not:
- Remove the splint
- Try to make alterations to your splint.
Please be aware wearing a splint continuously can cause irritation of the skin on your hand. You may notice some rubbing or digging in. If this becomes red, dry or blistered please contact your Hand Therapist. Please bring your splint to each hand therapy session.
How should I care for my scar?
Your Hand Therapist will show you and advise you when to start scar massage. This is normally once the wound has healed and is scabbed over.
Scar massage is useful as it helps to breakdown the scar tissue. This allows the scar to move more freely and reduces the risk of the scar becoming sensitive.
To complete scar massage you should:
- Apply firm pressure in circular movements along the length of the scar.
- Use non perfumed cream
- complete for 5 minutes at a time at least 4 times a day.
When can I return to my normal activities?
Your repaired tendon is weak for approximately 12 weeks after the operation and care has to be taken to protect it. Your Hand Therapist will guide you through each stage of the healing process.
The table below gives you some examples of timescales and activities.
|LIGHT (6 weeks)
|MEDIUM (8 weeks)
|HEAVY (12 weeks)
Putting on light clothes
Tying shoe laces
Using remote control
Writing and typing
Switching on light switch
Hanging washing out
Washing up and wiping up
Ring pull can opening
Using a knife/fork/spoon but not cutting meat
Holding a pint of liquid or a cup of tea
Using a towel
Opening and closing door handles
Using key to open door
Putting on socks
Reading a book
Hand washing or wringing out clothes
Using a knife
Cooking and lifting pans and kettle
Lifting heavy objects
Sports – Gold/Swimming/Gym/Cycling/Running/Football/Rugby
Do I need to take time off work?
Your Hand Therapist will discuss with you when it is appropriate to return back to your normal work and hobbies. Please speak to your GP, if you need a sick note. The table below gives you a guide of when you may expect to return to work. This will depend on the type of work or activity you do.
|Type of Work/Activity
|Approximate time off
|6 – 8 weeks
If you need any further advice regarding:
- Your appointment with the consultant.
- The surgery you may have had.
- Your wound, dressing or cast.
Please contact your local Orthopaedic Outpatient Department.
University Hospital of North Tees
Orthopaedic Outpatients Department Telephone: 01642 624473 Monday to Friday, 08:30 a.m. to 05:00 p.m. Saturday, 08:30 a.m. – 01:00 p.m.
Please contact Hand Therapy Team if:
- You have any concerns or a question regarding your exercises
- If your splint is rubbing, uncomfortable or damaged.
Hand Therapy Team Telephone: 01429 522471 Monday to Friday, 08:30 a.m. – 04:30 p.m.
You will be asked to attend either:
Hand Therapy First floor, North Wing University Hospital of North Tees
Physiotherapy Outpatients Department Ground floor University Hospital of Hartlepool
Comments, concerns, compliments or complaints
Patient Experience Team (PET)
We are continually trying to improve the services we provide. We want to know what we’re doing well or if there’s anything which we can improve, that’s why the Patient Experience Team (PET) is here to help. Our Patient Experience Team is here to try to resolve your concerns as quickly as possible. The office is based on the ground floor at the University Hospital of North Tees if you wish to discuss concerns in person. If you would like to contact or request a copy of our PET leaflet, please contact:
Telephone: 01642 624719
Freephone: 0800 092 0084
Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:00pm
Email: [email protected]
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Telephone: 01642 617617
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Telephone: 01642 383551
Email: [email protected]Privacy Notices
This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be improved are extremely valuable. Please write to the Clinical Governance team, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospital of North Tees, TS19 8PE or:
Email: [email protected]
Leaflet reference: PIL1181
Date for Review: December 2026