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What to Expect From Your Joint Replacement Recovery

What to Expect From Your Joint Replacement Recovery

Surgery of any kind takes a certain amount of planning. This is especially true of surgeries that impact your ability to move around, unaided, such as a hip or knee replacement. Knowing what to expect can make the recovery process a little smoother.

As a physical therapist with more than 33 years of experience in treating patients with mobility issues, I am familiar with guiding patients through the post-surgical process. As someone who had both hips replaced 6 weeks apart, I feel uniquely qualified to offer insights and answer questions such as will I need a caregiver? When will I be able to return to work?

It is important to emphasize that everybody is different and every body is different; experiences can vary. In fact you could have 2 totally different experiences with surgery on your left side versus your right.

Prepare your home before surgery. Remove or tack down throw rugs. Be sure electrical cords, kid/pet toys and other clutter are out of the way. Watch for spills in the kitchen or bathroom. Have your home well lit, including night lights for trips to the bathroom.

You may be more comfortable on the couch or a recliner initially, or you may be able to sleep immediately in bed. You will probably have limitations such as sleeping on your back or side (with pillow between knees) with a hip replacement or avoiding a pillow under the knee with a total knee replacement.

Make arrangements with family and friends. Be prepared to have someone with you at least for the first week at home following surgery. You may initially need help getting in and out of bed, preparing meals, and performing tasks such as getting dressed.

Make friends with your ice maker! During the initial weeks, ice is your best friend! Some other items that can be invaluable include: a sock donner; a long-handled shoe horn; a strap to lift the leg to bed; elastic shoelaces for sneakers; a long-handled sponge; a grabber; a commode chair; a shower chair or tub transfer bench which extends from inside the tub, over the edge to outside so you can sit to lift legs into the tub; a basket or tray attached to your walker; a moleskin or foam covers for walker handles. Your doctor may recommend compression socks for a period of time following surgery.

Take your recovery seriously. Following surgery, you will need physical therapy to regain your mobility and make the most of your replacement joint. In order to regain your range of movement, strength, and function, you will need to put in the work. Don’t get discouraged or complacent. Follow the prescribed regimen of exercises.

Be sure to eat a healthy diet, because this affects healing. If you do not have a good appetite, ask your doctor to suggest supplements.

Follow your doctor’s safety precautions. In the case of hip and shoulder replacements or indeed any surgery, find out what precautions you must follow post-surgery and follow them. These are designed to prevent the prosthesis from popping out of the socket as the tissues heal. The precautions will differ slightly depending on the type of surgery. Ask your doctor how long these precautions must be followed.

As you progress, you may feel aches and pains in different parts of your body. This is totally normal, and these symptoms will most likely resolve after a short time.

Often, return to driving can be within 2 to 3 weeks post left side surgery or 4 to 6 post right side surgery. Ultimately, this will depend on your condition at the time and what medications you are taking.

Make preparations with your employer. If you plan to return to work following your surgery, work with your employer to explore ways that your working environment (desk, chair, etc) may need to be adjusted to allow you to return to work safely with your doctor’s approval.

After my first surgery, I progressed from a walker to a cane after 2 weeks, and then to walking unassisted 5 weeks after surgery. After my second surgery, I progressed to a cane after 1 week, and no device around week 3. My employer worked with me to coordinate my return to work. I returned to work 6 weeks after my second surgery, 4 hours a day for 1 week, then 6 hours, then full time. I am now 6 months post my second surgery. I have returned to exercising and activities as I did before surgery, with some limitations in what I can and/or am allowed to do.

Please remember, your progress will depend on many things, including your fitness and health prior to surgery and your compliance with exercises and precautions post-surgery. You have the power to make the most of your rehab.

Michelle Stark, PT, CLT, treats patients at Allied Services Pittston Rehab Center.

Learn more about Joint Replacement Rehab or find an Outpatient Rehab Center near you.