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Life After Joint Replacement Surgery

Posted 5/31/2016 by UHBlog

Do you know what to expect after joint replacement surgery? Talk to us.

Life After Joint Replacement Surgery

If you’ve been living with knee or hip pain for awhile, you may think a joint replacement will cure all that ails you. While it’s true knee and joint replacement can ease pain and improve movement and function, it’s important to have realistic expectations, says joint replacement specialist Matthew Kraay, MD.

“After any surgery, there’s a certain amount of healing that needs to happen until you regain maximum movement and mobility,” he says. “It will depend on the type of surgery and your overall health going into it, but after an initial period of healing – maybe four to six weeks – you should notice progressive recovery.”

That's when self-motivation and self-care kick in, he says.

“Most of the time physical therapy will only take you so far,” Dr. Kraay says. “We’re big on patients doing the home exercises they’re given and progressing their activities after joint replacement surgery. It’s no different than if you break a leg. When the cast is removed, your muscles will be weak since they haven’t been used. You'll recover quicker and get back to where you want to be with a combination of physical therapy, home exercise and progressive activities to speed your recovery.

“With knees, you want to do exercises to help recover and restore your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the knee,” he says. “With hips, you don’t want to exceed the positional and weight-bearing restrictions until your body heals.”

As you heal, the two most important things are to follow a low-impact lifestyle and avoid risky behaviors, Dr. Kraay says. This includes:

  • Following your doctor’s and physical therapist's prescribed exercises
  • Taking up joint-friendly sports like walking, bicycling, swimming, golfing, recreational skiing and doubles tennis
  • Avoiding high impact and risky sports, such as soccer, jogging and skiing the black-diamond slopes

“Most sensible orthopedic surgeons recommend some lifestyle modifications because the more stress you put on the joint, the more it can affect how long it lasts,” he says. “Think of it like your car. If you want the car to last 15 years or more, you’ll have a greater chance of that the better you take care of it.”

Eventually, your progress may plateau. This is more often related to other health and orthopaedic problems and not your joint replacement, Dr. Kraay says.

“If you have arthritis in various places – your hips, knees and back, for instance – and you have a knee replaced, you'll have improvement related to your knee," he says. “However, you may still have problems with your hip or back. This limitation is unrelated to the knee surgery – it’s related to your hip or back.”

That's why it's important to come in with clear, realistic expectations, he says.

“If you’re 82 years old, having a knee replaced won't mean you'll be able to move like a 20-year-old,” Dr. Kraay says. “If you were only able to walk two or three blocks before the surgery, a joint replacement won't fix everything, but it will reduce your pain and improve your function. It's unrealistic to expect to climb the Great Wall if you can't climb stairs.”

Matthew Kraay, MD is an adult reconstructive orthopedic surgeon, director, Joint Reconstruction and Arthritis Surgery, and director, Center for Joint Replacement and Preservation, at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Dr. Kraay or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

Learn more about joint replacement and how it can change your quality of life.

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