Joint replacement procedures are increasingly common options for reducing pain and increasing mobility. Technological advances have made artificial joints safer and more effective than ever. Experts agree, though, that a solid rehabilitation program is essential for a successful joint replacement outcome. With the right knowledge and after-care, joint replacements offer new hope to those suffering with joint problems.
What is a Joint Replacement?
Joint replacement surgery consists of replacing a damaged joint with an artificial one. Artificial joints can be made out of metal, plastic, or ceramic, and they can be cemented or cementless. A cemented joint prosthesis is often preferred for older patients and uses a special polymer to attach the new joint to the bone. A cementless joint has a rough surface that encourages natural bone to grow onto it, working best in patients with healthy bones.
Why is Joint Replacement Necessary?
Arthritis is one of the most common reasons for joint replacement surgery. Damage caused by wear and tear or an injury can also lead doctors to recommend a replacement.
Because of mobility concerns, hips and knees are the joints replaced most often. However, other joints can also be replaced – including shoulders, fingers, ankles, and elbows. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), artificial joints last 10 to 15 years; younger patients may need to have artificial joints replaced down the road.
Joint Replacement: The Procedure
An orthopedic surgeon commonly performs joint replacement surgery. It is usually relatively quick and can sometimes be done as an outpatient procedure. During the surgery, the damaged cartilage and bone are removed and replaced with a prosthetic. For example: in the case of a hip joint replacement, the natural joint can be replaced by a metal ball and a plastic socket.
Joint Replacement: Recovery and Rehab are Key
The idea behind most joint replacement surgeries is to get patients moving again – without pain or limitations. Rehabilitation and physical therapy are crucial elements to a successful recovery. In many cases, physical therapy can start the day after surgery to help strengthen muscles around the joint. Exercise is an important part of the healing process, but there are other practices that can also help facilitate rehabilitation.
Experts agree that the success of joint replacement surgery can depend on follow-up care. Patients must commit to a physical therapy plan despite a certain level of initial discomfort. Twelve weeks of rehab are often recommended, and it’s best to go through physical therapy under the supervision of a trained professional. In addition to physical therapy, occupational therapy may also be needed to help patients learn strategies to handle dressing, bathing, and using the toilet.
Innovative Approaches to Joint Replacement Rehab
In addition to exercise, a number of promising therapies are being added to post joint replacement rehab. Treatments like infrared and ultrasound therapies and electric stimulation can reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling while speeding recovery.
- Infrared Therapy
Infrared therapy is based on the idea that certain wavelengths of light can have a positive effect on tissue, and has been shown to reduce pain and improve movement. It increases the amount of nitric oxide in the bloodstream, enhancing blood flow and bringing oxygen to affected areas.
- Ultrasound Therapy
During ultrasound therapy, sound waves cause vibrations and create heat in tissue, increasing relaxation and blood flow which in turn reduces swelling and inflammation.
- Electrical Muscle Stimulation
Clinical trials have shown that electrical stimulation can be a valuable addition to a physical therapy program following joint replacement surgery. This therapy involves sending electrical impulses to nerves in the muscle, helping the muscles near the affected joint to relearn normal functions after surgery.
Joint Replacement Rehab at Evergreen
The staff at Evergreen Health and Rehab is comprised of several hip and knee replacement specialists. Combining gentle stretching and slow strengthening exercises with cutting-edge therapies like infrared, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation treatments, our therapists can help patients of all ages regain strength and flexibility. Mobility is the primary goal of every joint replacement patient, so we work hard to get our patients moving again.