Joint replacement surgery can be frightening. If you are facing joint replacement surgery—perhaps hip or knee replacement—you may be asking yourself some of these questions: How painful will it be? How long will recovery take? Will I truly regain mobility after surgery? What will my life be like after surgery?
Let’s address that final question—what can you expect for life after joint replacement surgery?
Recovery: Recovery time varies from patient to patient and depends somewhat on your condition prior to surgery. In most cases of knee surgery, recovery takes at least three months to return to most activities, and at least six months to one year to fully recover and regain maximal strength after a total knee replacement. The average short-term recovery time after a total hip replacement is four to six weeks. Hip replacement patients can expect to regain the majority of their strength and endurance and return to activities without restriction by about three months after surgery.
Physical therapy. Physical therapy is a key component of recovery from joint replacement surgery. Physical therapy will begin while you are still in the hospital and may continue on an outpatient basis after you are discharged. Physical therapy focuses on regaining strength and mobility in the joint that was replaced.
Driving. This is one of the biggest concerns for patients undergoing joint replacement surgery. Driving means independence—something you will be anxious to regain after surgery. It’s important that you don’t rush your return to driving, as it is a matter of both healing and safety. If you had surgery on your left knee or hip, you may be able to return to driving within just a couple of weeks. If you had your right knee or hip replaced, it may take longer before you are able to get behind the wheel again. In any case, driving should be avoided while taking narcotics. Do not get behind the wheel without first getting clearance from your doctor. Ask about getting a temporary disabled placard when you do return to driving.
Work. In most cases, patients who undergo joint replacement surgery will be able to return to work within three to six weeks; sooner if you work from home. If your job requires intense or manual labor, it may take longer for your doctor to clear you to work again. Be sure to talk to your boss and coworkers prior to your surgery and develop a plan to transition you back to full working hours after surgery.
Travel. In the first few months after surgery, consult with your physician before planning any travel. When you do travel after surgery, be sure to take regular stretch breaks to prevent a blood clot from developing. If you are traveling by plane, keep in mind that getting through the security checkpoint may be more of a hassle after surgery. Artificial joints contain metal pieces that may set off airport metal detectors. To make your travel as smooth as possible, carry a medic alert card and be prepared for additional screening.
Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have about what to expect after surgery, as it can vary from one patient to the next. Joint replacement surgery is intended to improve quality of life and restore mobility and strength that may have been lost due to an injured or degenerating joint. Most importantly, be patient with yourself as you gradually return to normal activities after surgery.