Driven to lead more active and pain-free lives, more Americans are turning to total joint replacement surgery. The knee and hip are the most frequently replaced joints with over 600,000 knee and 285,000 hip replacements performed each year.
While advancements in replacement technology have dramatically shortened recovery time, the importance of physical therapy cannot be understated.
Physical therapy is typically initiated in the hospital within 24-48 hours after surgery. Your physical therapist will provide specific instructions and precautions related to protecting your new joint, and will teach you how to safely get in and out of a bed or chair and walk with the aid of a walker or crutches. Additionally, the physical therapist will guide you in flexibility and strengthening exercises essential to decreasing swelling and pain, and preventing stiffness and re-injury.
Upon leaving the hospital, you will likely begin outpatient or home health physical therapy. As your range of motion and strength improve, your physical therapist will guide you in gait and balance activities designed to promote a more normal and stable walking pattern.
Once you are able to walk without pain or a limp, your rehabilitation program will focus on functional task training such as stair climbing, lifting, and any other activities specific to your job demands or recreational/sport demands. Outpatient recovery generally lasts from 1-3 months.
The following suggestions will ensure that you are getting the most out of your physical therapy program:
■ Consult with your surgeon. Physical therapy should not be initiated without first consulting with your surgeon.
■ Come prepared to work hard, but don't overdo it. While some amount of pain or discomfort is unavoidable, too much pain can be counterproductive.
■ Communicate with your therapist. To avoid backsliding or injuring yourself, tell your therapist if something hurts or is too difficult.
■ Compliance is key. Since you only meet with your therapist a few times a week, it is essential to do assigned exercises at home in order to make progress.
■ Know what to expect after a therapy session. Asking how you might expect to feel after a therapy session can ease your mind. Some soreness is to be expected and can usually be reduced by icing the area.
■ Involve a friend or family member. A good support system is essential for motivation and assistance throughout the recovery process.
■ Set goals and track progress. Goals may need adjusting throughout the healing process, but continue to seek help from your support system and ask for progress updates from your therapist.
Rehabilitation following joint replacement surgery might seem overwhelming, but with proper guidance from your surgeon and physical therapist you can expect to regain mobility and to return to a full and active lifestyle.
Mary Proffitt is a Physical Therapist/Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Kentucky, College of Health Sciences.