The prospect of having a joint replacement surgery can be daunting. It is common to feel nervous or even anxious about the surgery itself, and worry about what life will be like immediately after your procedure. We have covered in a previous post how to make an informed decision when it comes to surgery. The blog has also gone through some of the best things you can do to prepare for a joint replacement surgery as best you can. Click here and here if you want a refresher!
This post will round out our mini-series on joint replacements. Today we will look at what happens after the surgery itself? The process post operation can often be unclear and the message of what to do can be lost between multiple appointments and consults.
To help you feel more at ease in the lead up we’ve put together an outline of what to expect following a knee or hip replacement. This will vary depending on each particular patient so make sure to check with your own health professional team on how these things will apply to you. In the meantime, I’ve broken the process down into the main stages that will usually follow a joint replacement operation.
Following the operation it’s most likely that you will spend at least a couple of days as a inpatient in the hospital recovering. A major operation such as this will take its toll on your body so it’s important that those caring for you make sure you are in a good stable condition before they send you home.
In the initial days after surgery, the hospital staff will need to monitor you closely due to the general anesthetic and operation as a whole. It is not unusual to feel quite tired and drained as you recover and may have some soreness as the effects of the local and general anesthetic wears off. You will most likely on some form of pain medications over the first few days. This will be adjusted depending on any other health conditions and medications you are taking.
As you recuperate and your health stabilises, the staff will be looking for you to reach certain benchmarks in regards to health and mobility. A hospital physiotherapist may assess how well you can get around- perhaps walking, or maybe with an aid such as crutches or a walker. Again this will be adjusted depending on your condition prior to surgery. This stay could be anywhere between 1 day and 2 weeks. If you have other health conditions or any complications expect a slightly longer stay. The hospital will have an expected discharge date to help you and them plan, but this doesn’t always work out to be the exact day as things can change!
Once they are happy with your condition you will be discharged from the hospital to move onto the next stage! Great job!
This stage will form an important bridge for some patients to get back to home safely. Sometimes you may not have or need this stage and might head straight home from the hospital. The purpose of the rehabilitation centre is to take care of those who still need further monitoring and progress before being safely sent home.
For example, if you have a certain medical condition they are monitoring (e.g. diabetes) or an illness (e.g. flu or infection) it would ideal for them to monitor your condition . Also if you do not have a certain level of mobility and function it will be helpful for you to have more close monitoring and more intense treatment to get you there faster!
Often these centres will feature a combination of daily physiotherapy, exercise physiology or hydrotherapy (pool based exercises). This regular program will help to accelerate progress and get you to the level you need to be safe and confident at home. This stage will vary from anywhere between a few days to a few weeks and will be dependant largely on the individual!
Congratulations on making it back home! By this stage you’re feeling more mobile and more confident, but the hard work isn’t done here. Whilst your movement will be improved- some daily activities may still be difficult. Some of the more challenging tasks may include going upstairs, squatting down to pick things up or walking 30 minutes. From here it’s important that you regain your full capacity to get back to your goals!
You can start to think about the exciting next steps which could include getting back to your favourite activity or travelling around the world. For some this will mean returning to hiking or lawn bowls or whatever activity you can think of. However these goals can seem far off when even walking short distances is initially difficult.
This is why it’s vital you continue with your recovery process. If you attended a rehab facility, they may have an outpatient program where you return a couple of times per week to continue with physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. If you have not it’s important you consult with a physiotherapist to progress your exercise program and recovery. They will assess your mobility and strength and provide a plan to help you reach your goal. The exercises will require more hard work but it’ll all be worth it once you’re back doing what you want to do!
To infinity and beyond!
Maintaining your strength, flexibility as well as a healthy weight, will help protect and preserve your newly replaced joint. It’s critical to continue with some activity and exercise longer term. I would highly recommend seeing an Exercise Physiologist at this stage to help you develop a sustainable and enjoyable ongoing program. This could include walking, swimming, gym based exercises or classes to name a few! We know that motivation to continue exercise can be tough so you need to make sure you find something that you love doing. It’s also important that you have appropriate exercises set at the right level- which is where seeing a health professional can make all difference!
Hopefully this has helped to clarify the often confusing postoperative pathway- and also highlighted some important aspects of your recovery that you need to get right. Please contact us if you need help in preparing or recovering after a joint replacement surgery.