For anyone living with a painful knee or hip, joint replacement surgery can be life-changing. Yet you shouldn’t expect to walk straight out of the hospital and into your new, pain-free life. Recovery from surgery is a process that can take several months.
The more closely you follow your doctor’s instructions, and the more effort you put into your recovery, the greater the odds that your surgery will be a success.
After your joint replacement surgery, you might go home on the same day or stay in the hospital for up to four days. Some people go to a rehabilitation center for a short time. Wherever you are, don’t expect to lie in bed for long. A physical therapist will meet with you on the same day as your surgery, or on the next day, to get you up and moving. The therapist will teach you how to walk with the aid of a walker, cane or crutches. You will also learn how to go up and down stairs.
Before you leave the hospital, yourdoctor and physical therapist will make sure that your pain is under control and you can get in and out of bed without help. The therapist will also explain how to do the exercises at home.
Plan to see your doctor for follow-up visits at around three weeks and three months after your surgery. “A three-week post-op visit after knee replacement surgery is to monitor and assess how well patients are doing with regard to getting back their range of motion in that knee,” says William Nageotte, PA-C, a physician assistant in Orthopaedic Surgery at Cleveland Clinic. “For the hips, it’s to primarily get an X-ray and make sure the replacement components are aligned properly and well fixed.”
Living with Your New Joint
To regain strength and mobility in your replacement joint, you need to practice a set of exercises on your own and with a physical therapist. “With the knee, it’s all flexion-extension exercises,” says Nageotte. “With the hip, it’s just walking. We want them walking for the first threeweeks.”
Getting through the exercises can be painful at first, but you need to stick with them to regain your full mobility. If you stop moving, scar tissue can form and permanently limit your movement. Taking your pain medication before you exercise can make the experience more comfortable.
Back to Normal
You can gradually resume normal activities-including work and exercise-in the weeks following surgery. Just take it slowly, listen to your body, and follow your doctor’s instructions.
Once you’ve fully recovered, you will be able to do just about anything you did before surgery-with one exception. “The only thing we don’t want patients doing, either two weeks or two years afterward, is running because it can lead to component failure,” says Nageotte.
“You’re allowed to run out of the way of a moving vehicle, but you’re not allowed to run as a form of exercise,” Nageotte tells his patients.
Be patient with yourself. You probably won’t be fully back to normal for several months after your surgery. “It’s a six- to 12-month process for a knee,” Nageotte says. “With most hips at three months you’re feeling great, and at six months you forget you had your hip replaced.”
How quickly and fully you recover depends on your level of commitment. “The surgeons are all well-trained and very skilled, but at the end of the day, the patient is the one who makes a joint replacement a success,” says Nageotte.