Coping with daily life after upper limb surgery

You may have read “Preparing for surgery to the upper limb” and now you are beginning to think about how you will cope for the period when you are one handed. For some people this may be a few days but for others it will be longer. It may be that once your arm is no longer in a sling the hand is splinted, thus reducing your level of dexterity and functioning. If this is your dominant hand it will have a marked effect on your activities of daily living.

The following ideas about how to cope with one hand or one and a splinted hand were written following my experience as a patient of the Reading Hand Surgery service. I had surgery on both wrists at different times.


Getting dressed

It is safer to get dressed sitting down because if you lose your balance you are likely to hurt yourself! Put the affected arm into your clothes first. I found short sleeves easier with a fleece or wide sleeved cardigan on top. There are gadgets available commercially to help do up a bra. (See section Aids to activities of daily living.) Lace up shoes present a problem, so I wore slip-on ones. For walks in the country I abandoned my walking boots in favour of wellies. Elastic shoe laces are available. Coats without elastic in the cuffs are much easier to put on over a splint. “Magic” gloves which stretch to any size will fit over a splint. In very cold weather several pairs can be worn. These can be bought in a wide range of low price shops.



If you are struggling to eat with one hand try to pick food that can be cut easily with a fork. This is particularly relevant if going out to eat. Not everyone feels comfortable asking their dining companion to cut their food up in public!


Personal hygiene

As mentioned in “Preparing for surgery…” having a shower can be tricky. Wrap the dressing/ splint and arm in several layers of cling film to keep them dry. Try using a non-slip mat in the shower. If you need to sit down a small plastic garden chair might fit in the shower cubicle. Put a towel down first to avoid the tray getting scratched. Having a bath can also be tricky as it is very difficult to get out of the bath with one hand. If the shower is over the bath extreme care should be exercised in climbing in and out. It is advisable to shower/ bathe when there are other people in the house if at all possible. Sit down to dry yourself.

Performing intimate cleaning tasks with your non-dominant hand will become easier with practice.



Liquid medicine can be measured in a very small measuring jug (5 – 60ml available from kitchenware shops) Ask someone to screw the cap on lightly if it has a child proof lid.


Food preparation and cooking

If no-one is available to peel and chop vegetables, ready prepared ones are available in supermarkets. Alternatively, a food processor could be used. A free standing electric tin opener is very useful. There are various aids available which can make food preparation easier. While still using two hands sharpen all your knives so if you are cutting with your non-dominant hand it will be easier. Taking small dishes out of a microwave or conventional oven is less difficult if they are on a tray or a plate as it will give you a larger surface area to grip hold of. Straining food is a challenge but can be accomplished safely by putting a sieve in a colander and standing it in the sink. Use a kettle or jug to fill a saucepan with water, rather than trying to move the full pan. Fill a kettle using a jug.


Going out and about

If using a handbag try one with a long strap worn across your body, it is much easier to find things with one hand if you are not trying to balance the bag as well. The same applies for carrying shopping etc. You may be using public transport while you are unable to drive. It is helpful to sort out a bus fare beforehand and put it somewhere easily accessible e.g. in your pocket. Once on the bus try and sit near the front of the bus so you do not have to walk very far while the bus is moving. Trying to hold on, steady yourself and carry your belongings can be tricky!  Walking in the country can provide other challenges. Climbing a stile one-handed or balancing through slippery mud requires some skill.


Going to work

Before returning to work it may be advisable to have a discussion with the occupational health service. This will give you the opportunity to explore what difficulties there may be and how to cope with them. Using a keyboard one-handed is possible but be careful not to strain the hand you are using. Be assertive with your colleagues about what you can and cannot do and ask for help. Being at work and functioning one-handed can be very tiring.



Being able to pursue hobbies is very important. However, doing this one-handed may be tricky or even impossible. Try to find things you can do one-handed that you enjoy. It may mean that you modify the way you do it or someone may need to help you. It could be an opportunity to try something new.


Aids to activities of daily living

There are many aids available. Some of these can be bought in high street chemists, have a look on their web sites. Others can be bought from specialist companies via the internet. You can find these companies using a search engine.



Being one handed and /or having reduced function can be tiring and demoralising. Remember to plan rests and be realistic in what you can achieve. Plan treats for your self and be positive about your achievements. Practising will make things easier so persevere, things will improve.

Good luck!