Steps to Recover from Joint Replacement Surgery

Woman with walkerIt is a smooth layer of cartilage most people do not think about every day. However, when this cartilage becomes damaged or worn down, it becomes a constant source of discomfort or pain. When the cartilage wears down to the point where bone is rubbing on bone in specific joints, surgery becomes an option.

Considering any sort of joint replacement surgery can be intimidating, but taking several precautions before and after the procedure can make the recovery from a total joint replacement procedure easier.

Doctors usually determine to replace a person’s joints when the pain and lack of mobility due to the worn down cartilage becomes debilitating. This can be associated with conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, or it can be connected to a traumatic injury.

The goal of joint replacement surgery is to relieve pain by replacing the damaged cartilage with metal and/or plastic surfaces. A successful surgery can improve function, increase mobility and relieve pain.

Three forms of joint replacement surgery include replacements to the:

  • Knee
  • Hip
  • Shoulder

To help a person recover following surgery, they can enlist the help of a caregiver for hospital discharge services and after surgery home care. Experts believe that any person returning home from a joint replacement surgery will need the help and support of family, friends or an outside agency for at least a few weeks. This will include rehabilitation and physical therapy from a home health care provider, but many people will find it difficult to do normally simple tasks such getting dressed, bathing, or preparing meals. Preparing to ask for help with these tasks is a big part of preparing for the procedure. Each person should understand the limitations they will encounter following surgery.

Furthermore, while each person’s recovery has its individual challenges, there are universal steps people can take to assist in the recovery. First, it is important to prepare the home for a person with a temporary disability. A knee or hip replacement will most likely require the use of assistive devices to walk, such as crutches, a walker or a cane. This means the pathways in the home need to be clear of any hazards that could cause a fall. To do this, you can secure or remove loose rugs, and clear away any clutter or pieces of furniture that can create obstacles. This may especially help someone with an assistive device that helps them walk, but it is just as important for a person recovering from a shoulder replacement surgery to avoid a fall.

You may also want to consider an elevated toilet seat, installing safety rails and grab bars in the bathroom, using a shower bench or chair, and making sure all mats are skid resistant. Long-handed reaching tools and sponges can also be helpful.

Another preparation to take before surgery is to plan for meals. Try to work out a process where the meal is easy to prepare, or make sure someone is there to help the patient. This could mean just stopping by for a few hours during the day to set up and clean up at meal times, or creating accessible solutions in the kitchen like levers instead of knobs on appliances, cabinets and drawers.

It’s also important for a person recovering from joint replacement surgery not to become too sedentary. Specialists often encourage those with knee replacements to participate in low-impact activities, such as walking, dancing, golfing, easy hiking, swimming and aqua aerobics, bowling or gardening. For a person with a hip replacement, the first step is start putting weight on the leg, which can take four to eight weeks alone, but as recovery continues, experts often say they should also start becoming more active. When it comes to shoulder surgery, a patient may want to avoid even picking up a glass of water initially, but after exercise and therapy, they can start performing many of the activities they did before the surgery.

For more information on joint replacement surgery, visit the National Institute of Health’s website.

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