Planning ahead and pre-surgery preparation are the key to a speedy and successful recovery following your knee or hip replacement.
We spoke to sportsmed’s Orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Rob Wallace about the importance of pre-planning, what to expect in your recovery, important warning signs, and some important things to consider after a joint replacement.
Joint replacement surgery is elective and pre-planned which means you have time to get yourself into the best possible condition to assist with a speedy and successful recovery.
Dr Wallace suggests engaging a physiotherapist and undertaking a pre-habilitation program aimed at strengthening your muscles is a good idea.
He says that “When you have an arthritic joint, you tend to avoid using it as it can cause pain, so over time the muscles around those joints can weaken. Restoring some strength to deconditioned muscles around joints along with core strength and upper body strength can assist in speeding up your post-operative recovery.”
He also suggests the same physiotherapist can assist in your rehabilitation post-surgery, advising “the continuity of engaging the same physio is extremely beneficial as they will know the preparation you undertake and can seamlessly pick up in the post-operative phase.
“They can also advise on helpful equipment you might consider hiring to get your home prepared for when you’re discharged from hospital – toilet seat raisers and assistance rails in bedrooms or bathrooms are commonly used and extremely beneficial when you first come home.”
Expect to be out of bed soon after your surgery, as early mobility aids your recovery and getting you mobile before discharge is a priority.
Dr Wallace says patients will start with a walking frame and then progress to two walking sticks and then down to one upon discharge.
He says “You can expect to only be in hospital around four or five days and some patients may even be discharged earlier.
“Before you are discharged it is important to understand warning signs of any possible complications so you can identify the need to contact your doctor after leaving the hospital.”
Warning signs such as tenderness, redness and swelling in your calf or swelling in your thigh, ankle or foot may be warning signs of a blood clot, while warning signs of infection may include fever, chills, tenderness and swelling of the joint.
Knee and hip replacement surgery can lead to an increased risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, so the warning signs of this are also important to understand prior to hospital discharge.
A DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of your deep veins, usually in your leg. It can cause pain and swelling and may lead to serious complications such as pulmonary embolism and long-term problems with your legs.
Again, as part of your thorough pre-planning, your doctor will discuss your risk level and give you appropriate post-surgery options. These commonly include wearing compression stockings, taking anti-coagulants (blood thinners) and the use of a special pump to encourage blood flow.
Dr Wallace says patients are generally mobile enough to get around their own homes, particularly those who have pre-planned and arranged in-home assistance equipment. However, he says asking for help from friends or family is a good idea in the early weeks post-surgery.
He recommends “For shopping or getting to appointments it’s a good idea to have a family member or friend to help.
“Once home, keep a list of tasks around the house you need help with for when a friend visits – people like to help, all you need to do is ask.”
If you don’t have a relative or friend that can help with your shopping, don’t forget about online options.
Dr Wallace says most people are surprised by how mobile and comfortable they are in the early weeks post-surgery and that early and consistent rehabilitation is vital.
He advises “Engaging the same physiotherapists that assisted with your pre-habilitation is ideal because they will understand your pre-surgery condition.
“Most patients will be recommended early post-operative physio at least fortnightly to weekly for the first month, and then it becomes more individualised depending on your progress. “Following a hip replacement, patients can expect to be reasonably independently mobile somewhere between four and six weeks, with knee replacements commonly experiencing residual stiffness and swelling for the first six to eight weeks.”
If getting to appointments post-surgery is expected to be a problem, discuss in-home services ahead of time with your doctor, as rehabilitation services can also be brought to your home.
Once you’ve been through the surgery and rehabilitation process it’s important to get the best out of your joint replacement – and that means longevity too.
Maintaining a healthy weight, selecting appropriate physical activities and limiting high-impact sports can all help.
Dr Wallace says if you are overweight it’s best to try and get down to a healthy weight, and that “every added kilo of body weight adds between three and five kilos of stress to the joints, so it’s important to take any unnecessary pressure off the new joint.
“Pressure also includes high-impact sports such as running, which we recommend avoiding and replacing with cycling, swimming and weight-based gym work. They provide good fitness benefits while minimising joint impact.”
Find out more about our Health Management and Support Programs, including Health Partners Rehabilitation at Home program which provides an alternative to hospital-based rehabilitation.
Call us to see if you’re eligible.