Life After Surgery
Congratulations, you have a new hip or knee! Care must be taken in the recovery process to make sure the surgical site heals properly and effectively.
You will probably be in the hospital for several days following your joint replacement surgery. If you have any complications, other disabilities or illnesses, or have no one to help you at home, you may need to spend several weeks in a rehabilitation facility before going home. You and your healthcare team will determine this together.
Literally, the first time you stand or take your first steps following surgery will begin on the day of your surgery. Using a walker or crutches, you will walk a short distance with the assistance of nurses. Because you are healing, there will be some discomfort, but this will be helped with medicines prescribed by your surgeon.
Physical therapy begins as soon as possible--usually the day after surgery—to strengthen your muscles and help you regain motion in your joint. The physical therapist will help you with a gentle program in the hospital and then work with your at-home therapist to see that your recovery is as speedy as possible.
Become an Active Participant in Your Own Healing
Most patients achieve their success goals with joint replacement surgery. But, this success depends a lot on what you do when you go home. Follow your doctor’s advice about what to do at home, medications, and how to exercise.
Watch Out for Complications
If problems do occur, most are treatable. You should be watching for:
• Infections which can occur in the wound, or around the new joint. Minor infections in the wound are usually treated with drugs. Deep infections may require a second operation to treat the infection or replace the joint. Warning signs are:
o Persistent fever (higher than 100 degrees)
o Shaking chills
o Increasing redness, tenderness or swelling of your wound
o Drainage of your wound
o Increasing pain with both activity or at rest
• Blood clots which are clumps of blood that can form if the blood moves too slowly. Your surgeon may suggest blood thinning drugs or special stocking’s, exercises or boots to help your blood move faster. Warning signs are:
o Pain in your leg unrelated to your wound
o Increasing redness, tenderness
o Increasing swelling of your leg, ankle or foot
If pain, redness or swelling occurs in or around your new joint or leg after you leave the hospital, contact your surgeon right away.
Getting Back to Your Normal Activities
As soon as you are up to it, get active. The key is to not do too much, too soon. While you can expect some good days and some bad days, you should notice a gradual improvement over time. Generally, the following guidelines will apply:
You can resume driving when you are no longer taking narcotic pain medication, and when your strength and reflexes have returned to a more normal state. Ask your surgeon when it is safe to resume driving.
Depending on your condition, you may be able to resume sexual activity within several weeks after surgery. Consult your doctor about this.
You can safely sleep on your back, on either side, or on your stomach.
Return to Work
It may be several weeks before you are able to return to work. Your doctor will advise you when it is safe to resume your normal work activities.
Sports and Exercise
Continue to do the exercises prescribed by your physical therapist for at least 2 months after surgery. As soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, you can return to many of the sports activities you enjoyed before your knee replacement.
• Walk as much as you would like, but remember that walking is no substitute for the exercises prescribed by your doctor and physical therapist.
• Swimming is an excellent low-impact activity after a total knee replacement; you can begin as soon as the sutures have been removed and the wound is healed.
• In general, lower impact fitness activities such as golfing, bicycling, and light tennis will help increase the longevity of your knee and are preferable over high-impact activities such as jogging, racquetball and skiing.
Ask your doctor before you travel on an airplane. When going through security, be aware that the sensitivity of metal detectors varies and your artificial joint may cause an alarm. Tell the screener about your artificial joint before going through the metal detector. You may also wish to carry a medical alert card to show to the airport screener.
To read more about how to speed your recovery, please consult one of the Internet-based resources below.