Joint replacements are common procedures, but that doesn’t mean they are entirely minor. Typically, we use our joints on a near-constant basis, so as soon as the surgery is done, you will realise how much you miss being able to freely move the joint in question, which is why physiotherapy is so important.
The majority of patients will feel pain in the surrounding area as the muscles and tissues recover from the surgery, but that doesn’t mean you get to take it easy. The reality is that physiotherapy can be a tough and at times even painful experience, but it is completely necessary in order to get the most effective results out of the surgery.
The exact plan will vary on a case-by-case basis, but if you are expecting to get a few days or even weeks to rest up and recover, you can put those notions to bed. In many cases, physiotherapy will officially begin just hours after the surgery has taken place. In the first day after the surgery, you are likely to be asked to move the joint as you lay in bed, so the doctor can assess your situation. Depending on the joint in question, your doctor may move it for you, monitoring your mobility and your discomfort. In some cases, the doctor may ask you to try and take a few steps. The area where the joint has been replaced will be swollen and bruised, and may require the use of a compression pad or draining of excess fluid after the surgery.
The first weeks after your surgery will focus on restoring motion and strength. If the surgery was in the lower extremities (hips, knees, ankles), your initial recovery will take place in and around your bed, with simple stretches, movements, and actions such as taking a few steps or getting in and out of bed. Within 3 days, you should move on to walking further, often with the use of crutches or a frame, before moving on to more challenging exercises such as steps or treadmills. Regardless of the joint in question, the muscles surrounding it will be much weaker after surgery, and can buckle under weight much more easily than you are used to.
If the surgery is in the upper extremities (shoulders, elbows, wrists), your hand will feel much weaker, and you will focus on grip strength and the ability to lift increasingly heavy objects. One fact that may catch some patients by surprise is that the exercises required will not revolve exclusively around the joint that has been operated on, as the limitations imposed by the surgery can actually have knock-on effects on other parts of the body. For example, if you have had knee-replacement surgery, you will be required to do things like ankle exercises, to encourage circulation and prevent the formation of blood clots. If you have had a shoulder replaced, you will need to do elbow stretches to prevent it from becoming stiff in the sling.
Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will work with you to come up with an exercise routine to help you restore strength and mobility on your own. You will be required to make a few outpatient appointments, either with the hospital or a private physiotherapist. This recovery period can typically last up to three months, and while it may take a little longer to get completely used to your new joint, the results speak for themselves. Over 90% of knee-replacement patients are satisfied with the improvement to their quality of life one year later, while that figure can be as high as 97% for hip-replacement. The physiotherapy required may not be easy, but the overwhelming majority of people believe it is worth it in the end.