Learning you need a joint replacement raises a lot of questions.
When will I be able to walk again? How long will I be off work? Will I have limitations after surgery?
Good news. Joint replacement patients often are able to return to work in a matter of weeks and resume most of their normal activities within a few months of surgery.
“The reason most people have surgery is to be more active, and we encourage activity after joint replacement,” Marshfield Clinic orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Earll said.
Here’s what you can expect after surgery.
Most patients stay in the hospital one to three nights after surgery.
Surgeons sometimes perform joint replacements in ambulatory surgery centers. There, patients can recover and receive medical care for 24 hours without being admitted to the hospital.
A physical therapist may send patients home with crutches or a walker to use until you can walk on your own.
Expect to get moving shortly after surgery. That means sitting up in bed, moving to a chair and performing range of motion exercises with the new joint the same day.
“The first few days after surgery involve keeping pain under control while starting to move,” Earll said.
Recovery at home
Joint replacement patients are encouraged to keep moving once they get home.
Some patients are able to walk in as little as a week. It can take up to six weeks for other patients to walk unassisted. Knee replacement patients typically undergo several weeks of physical therapy.
During recovery, patients can slowly begin to do more household chores. Avoid movements that require extreme bending and twisting.
“There’s a balance people have to find,” Earll said. “We want people to recover rapidly, but they can do too much too soon.”
When can I go back to work?
Patients may be off work two weeks to three months after joint replacement surgery.
People who work desk jobs tend to return in a few weeks. Returning to a job that involves standing or manual labor usually takes longer.
“If someone needs or wants to get back to work and can do their job safely and without excruciating pain, I let them go back to work,” Earll said.
Long-term recovery from joint replacement
Earll follows up with patients about six weeks after surgery.
“At that point, they’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but there can be issues for a few months,” he said.
Patients can ease their way back into a fitness program six to eight weeks after surgery, but for some, it can take longer. Start with low-impact activity, like riding a bike or walking on a treadmill.
Most patients won’t have long-term limitations and will only need to follow up with their surgeon for X-rays every few years.
Joint replacements last 10 to 20 years.