What to Expect During Joint-Replacement Surgery and Recovery
When preparing for joint-replacement surgery, it’s natural to have a lot of questions.
How long will I be out? When can I drive again? Will I need to be in the hospital for a long time?
With so many recent advancements in surgery and post-operative care, there are also a lot of options to consider. Laura Haines, a registered nurse and joint-replacement coordinator at Texas Health Plano, encounters these questions every day. Joint-replacement coordinators serve as a link between the patient and the physician, guiding them and their support system through the joint replacement journey, which is why we sat down with Haines to go over common questions she gets asked and what you can expect before and after joint-replacement surgery.
How do I know if I’m a candidate for joint-replacement surgery?
Haines notes that typically your physician will do an assessment of your condition and try less-invasive treatment options to put surgery off as long as possible. These treatment options can include activity modifications, weight loss, physical therapy, injections or braces.
Generally, candidates for joint replacements are patients who are no longer receiving relief from conservative methods. The severity of joint damage, your pain level and how well you respond to less-invasive treatments will determine when joint replacement is the necessary alternative.
What options are available to me for surgery?
There are a variety of surgical options available for hip and knee replacement, from partial to total replacement and traditional to outpatient. There are also a variety of materials your replacement joint can be made of, and some surgeons even opt to use custom-fit joints. But Haines says you don’t need to spend hours researching what’s available, your physician will discuss every option to you and help choose the appropriate option based on your needs.
How much pain will I experience and how long will I have to be in the hospital?
While pain is subjective and therefore will vary from patient to patient, Haines knows this is a valid concern. However, she says that joint-replacement surgeons have come a long way in pain management and often use a multi-modal approach to pain management before, during and after surgery to help minimize post-operative pain.
As for your hospital stay, Haines says the stay is tailored to fit your needs after surgery and to ensure the best possible outcome and ongoing success of your joint replacement, but most patients are discharged within 72 hours.
When can I get back to doing my day-to-day things, such as driving a car, cleaning up around the house, going to work, etc?
“Once you go home after surgery, you will be advised to slowly increase your activity,” Haines says. “Clearance to drive will be up to your surgeon, but it can be as early as two weeks, depending on your progress after surgery. Your return back to work is also up to your surgeon, but typically, you will be able to return to work once you are no longer taking pain medications and able to drive.”
Will I have to be on crutches or use a walker or wheelchair?
While the use of a two-arm support such as a walker or crutches is a must for approximately two weeks post-op, Haines says it will depend on your surgeon’s preference and your therapist’s assessment to determine use after that time.
Will I need a home health clinician during my recovery, or will I need to come to the office for post-operation care?
“You will likely be set up with a home health therapist who will come to your house three to five times a week for the first two weeks,” Haines says. “They will assist with your post-operative exercises. There is also the option of going to an outpatient therapy clinic, but this would need to be discussed with your surgeon.”
How can a joint-replacement coordinator help me before and after surgery?
“The joint coordinator serves as your point of contact regarding anything that pertains to your surgery,” Haines explains. “The joint-replacement coordinator can help you prior to surgery by answering your questions and helping you with discharge planning and can also review any necessary equipment you may need. If you need additional help at home, they can plan for that as well.”
Your joint-care coordinator sticks with you from beginning to end, so they can also give guidance for common concerns after surgery, such as constipation or swelling, and if there happens to be a question they can’t answer, they can easily get you in contact with other members of the joint replacement team to get you an answer.
Will I need to go to physical therapy after surgery and for how long? Can a coordinator help me set that up?
You will need physical therapy after surgery, but where that will take place is up to your surgeon.
“Typically, it starts in the home with a home health therapist for a couple of weeks, then you can transition to an outpatient setting,” Haines explains. “The length of your therapy program will depend on your progress, which will be assessed at your surgeon’s office during your follow-up visits. The coordinator can connect you with the hospital case manager, who will set up your post-op therapy.”
How long until I’m considered fully recovered? What will I be able to do — or not do — once I’m fully recovered?
Some surgeons say that it can take up to a year for a full recovery, but Haines adds that you will be able to resume normal daily activities much sooner than that — around two weeks after surgery.
“The goal after joint-replacement surgery is to help you return to activities that were slowed or stopped by your painful joint,” she explains. “Specifics regarding what you can and cannot do will be determined by your surgeon once you are recovered from surgery.”
What education options are available to me if I still have questions or concerns?
“Texas Health offers a free joint education class prior to the procedure where you will learn how to prepare for your surgery, what to expect during your hospital stay and what to anticipate when you return home,” Haines says.
It is important to remember that every patient is different, and the information here should not take the place of a discussion with your physician. The first and most important step in considering your options is to meet with your physician, who can examine your specific condition and provide a treatment plan that best meets your needs.
For more information on joint replacement at Texas Health Resources or to learn more about your joint health, visit www.texashealth.org/orthopedic-services and take the Hip & Knee assessment.