Damage to your hip or knee joint can seriously slow you down, making the most basic tasks and movements challenging. When we’re in constant pain, it may be tempting to rely on medications that aren’t good for our health long-term. If you’re in this situation, it may be time to think about joint replacement surgery. But remember, as successful and frequent as it is, joint replacement is still major surgery. Successful recovery from joint replacement takes time and effort from both patients and providers. One thing almost every patient wants to know is: when is the right time?
What Is Joint Replacement Surgery?
Joint replacement surgery involves removing joints damaged by injury, wear, and tear, or arthritis and replacing them with artificial materials. The most commonly replaced joints are the hip and knee. These are weight-bearing joints and take the brunt of years of impact from sports, weight gain, and day to day activities as we age. The goal is to make walking and movement more comfortable and less painful. Over the years, joint replacement surgery has become safer and more common. Doctors have sophisticated techniques for performing these in-demand procedures, and new materials make artificial joints tougher and longer-lasting. According to a 2017 study, there are more than one million total joint replacements in the U.S. each year.
How Do I Know When It’s Time for Joint Replacement Surgery?
Harvard Medical School has identified a few red flags for joint replacement surgery. If you’re experiencing one or more of these, it’s time to start a conversation with your orthopaedist:
- You can no longer complete routine tasks without help.
- You have significant pain that isn’t helped by non-surgical approaches.
- Your doctor says less complicated procedures won’t solve the problem.
- Pain medications are causing adverse side effects.
- Tests show advanced arthritis or significant joint damage.
Remember, an artificial joint can wear out over 20 years. There are patients in their 40s who need a joint replacement because of injury or other extenuating circumstances. But patients who need early joint replacement may eventually need a second surgery.
Can I Wait Too Long for Joint Replacement Surgery?
The secret to a successful joint replacement surgery and recovery is timing. We don’t want to push surgery too early. But patients shouldn’t wait until it becomes too painful to walk. If you wait too long, you’ll have a much lower chance of returning to a baseline function level after surgery.
What Time of Year is Best for Joint Replacement Surgery?
If your work life and orthopaedist are flexible, many experts recommend scheduling joint replacement surgery in the spring or fall. Mild temperatures make dealing with clothing easier. You want to avoid too many layers and pieces: jackets, socks and challenging pants can all be tricky. The heat of summer may make recovery uncomfortable, while winter can make getting needed activities like walking more challenging. And winter weather events can make getting to follow-up appointments and physical therapy more difficult. However, if your job makes focusing on recovery easier at a particular time of year, be sure to factor that into your plan. For example, teachers may want to schedule surgery in the summer to allow for recovery time.
What Can I Do For A Successful Recovery After Joint Replacement?
After joint replacement surgery, the bottom line is this: you have to start moving again if you want to regain function. From those first hours after surgery, you’ll begin with small supervised exercises to prevent blood clots. A high-quality physical therapy program is essential for patients of all ages. In many cases, especially for seniors, your doctor may recommend a short stay in a rehab facility to begin the healing process. Rehab gives patients the support and supervision they need to start the recovery process the right way. Trained physical therapists on-site help motivate and supervise patients during those first challenging days of recovery.
Your therapist will create a personalized program designed with your age and mobility in mind. It’s also essential to continue your routine at home and follow-up with exercises to prevent infection and boost healing. You may need to use a walker, cane or crutches to get moving in the early weeks of recovery. You may also need to modify your home to make moving around while healing easier. Helpful additions can include extra railings on stairways, grab bars in the bathroom, and updates in the kitchen to make access easier. Working with an occupational therapist during rehab can help you adapt to these new support systems.
Joint Replacement: How Short-Term Rehab Can Help
At Evergreen Health & Rehab, helping patients recover after joint replacement surgery is one of our specialties. Our team of top-notch physical and occupational therapists is ready to help patients take those first steps to mobility. In the early days of healing, motivation can be hard to find. We’ll help you push through barriers safely to promote healing and rebuild strength and function. A short time in rehab following your hospital stay can give you the precious healing time you need to make your return home safe and successful. Whatever your age or physical condition pre-surgery, our goal is to get you moving again, one step at a time.