Joint replacement surgery
Surgery can be scary, but joint replacement surgery is routine. Hip and knee surgeries are often done because of osteoarthritis, when bone painfully rubs on bone. Your surgeon will replace some of the bone with metal, ceramic, and/or plastic so that bone will not rub on bone.1
The more you involve yourself in your care and do what your health professionals say, the faster your recovery will be. Before the surgery, go to any educational events about the joint surgery, ask questions and keep the information organized. Schedule your surgery when it is most convenient for you and arrange for a support person to help you after the surgery.2
Planning ahead: Equipment
Before the surgery, you will need to borrow or purchase equipment.
- Your health professionals will want you to use a walker.
- The adaptive equipment for hip and knee surgery comes in a hip kit that costs about 30 US dollars.
- These tools include a long-handled reacher or grabber, a sock aide to help you put on your socks and other tools to help you go about your day while you maintain your surgical precautions.
An occupational therapist will show you how to use these tools. If you borrow or buy used equipment, make sure to wash it to prevent germs from spreading.
Planning ahead: Home modification
Before the surgery, you will need to modify your home. Walk around your home with a walker to make sure you can get around well and place items within easy reach. You may need to put some pillows on some furniture if it is too low to get out of easily.
If you do the cooking in your household, freeze meals ahead.
It also will help to have clothing that is easy to get on and off, a handheld shower head, and sturdy grab bars.3 (Don’t use a suction cup grab bar. A suction cup grab bar cannot hold much weight and is not safe.)
Planning ahead: Your health
You will also want to check on your health habits. Quit or at least reduce smoking, because it slows healing and increases the risk of infection. Your primary care provider will do a medical evaluation several weeks before the surgery.2
Finally, apply for a temporary disability permit.
Right before joint replacement surgery
Here are some things you may need to do (or, know) before joint replacement surgery:
- An anesthesiologist will meet you before the surgery.
- The night before the surgery they may want you to shower with medical soap and sleep on clean sheets.
- Don’t eat or drink anything the after midnight before the surgery, and don’t drink alcohol for 48 hours before the surgery.
- Bring non-slip shoes, comfortable clothing that is easy to get on and off, earplugs and eye shades, a folder or binder for handouts, a writing implement and something to read and/or listen to.
- Bring a list of names and contact information for all of your doctors, a list of your medications, allergies, past surgeries, medical conditions, and the name and contact information of your support person.2
Waking up and recovering
The surgery itself lasts about two hours, and the hospital stay can last about 2-3 days. When you first wake up, you will feel like a rock star because of the pain medications. Let your health professionals know when the medications start to wear off. Take all of your medications as prescribed. If you try to take less medicine, you may have to take an even bigger dose when the pain gets worse later.
Your recovery time depends on how many of which kind of joints you are having surgery on, and how healthy you are overall. Everyone recovers at a different pace, so don’t compare your recovery to that of other people.
You will see a physical therapist before and after your surgery to help you grow stronger. They will talk to you about your home environment (including how many steps you need to go up to enter your home).
You may also see an occupational therapist (OT). An OT is similar to a physical therapist, but more focused on making sure you can do daily tasks, such as getting dressed and preparing meals. The OT will show you how to do your daily routines, while adhering to your surgical precautions. Your precautions will depend on which surgical approach your surgeon used.
After you leave the hospital, you will have outpatient or in-home therapy. A therapist may assess your home’s safety and give you suggestions. You may do some of your rehab with a physical or occupational therapy assistant, who is trained to treat but not evaluate. Assistants work in communication with therapists.
You will not be able to drive for a time (maybe, a month) after the surgery, because you could injure your joint. You will have slower reflexes and you may be under the influence of pain medications. Your car insurance will not cover you while you are on those medications.
In the beginning, you will have to take precautions against falls. Use your walker for as long as instructed. It is better to walk normally with a walker than to limp with a cane or crutches.
Keep chairs with arms around. Before you sit down, feel the chair on the backs on your legs and use the chair arms to help you slowly lower down. When you stand up, use the chair arms, and stand up all the way before you put your hands on the walker.
- Remove any throw rugs because they can trip you up with a walker.
- Ask your family to clean up any spills
- Avoid walking in ice and snow.4
- Sit down while you do things.
- Put bells on your pets, so you know when they are coming.
- Keep your house well-lit
- Make sure you wear your glasses, hearing aids and shoes.
- Don’t do anything that hurts, unless your physical therapist is pushing you for a reason.
Organization and mental health
It is a lot to put meals in your freezer, adjust your house, remember what to bring, learn to use a walker and adhere to precautions. It’s not wonder that you may feel overwhelmed.
Make sure you have all of the surgery information in one place, such as a folder, a binder, or your phone. Use a portable calendar and to do list. Make sure you share the information with your support person.
Right after surgery, when you can’t drive or exercise as much, make sure you have something fun to do.5 You could watch a show that you have always wanted to watch, or you could knit something for your support person. You could plan times to have friends over and don’t worry about cleaning the house.
Plan ahead. Hopefully these tips will make your experience smoother.
1.Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Hip Replacement. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hip-replacement/about/pac-20385042
2.OrthoInfo. (n.d.). Preparing for Joint Replacement Surgery. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/preparing-for-joint-replacement-surgery/
3.Arnot Health. (n.d.). Joint Surgery Recovery Tips. https://www.arnothealth.org/joint-surgery-recovery-tips
4.University of Utah. (n.d.). What to Expect After Hip Replacement Surgery. https://healthcare.utah.edu/orthopaedics/specialties/joint-replacement/patient-guide/after-hip-replacement/
5.Whitt, Kate. (2018, July 15). Eight Tips to Prepare for Joint Replacement Surgery. https://www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/eight-tips-to-prepare-for-joint-replacement-surgery/