What Is Total Joint Replacement Surgery?

A total joint replacement is a surgical procedure that treats damaged or arthritic joints. The procedure achieves this by removing the damaged parts and installing a prosthesis. A prosthesis is a device made of metal, plastic, or ceramic that will function as a normal and healthy joint. Knee and hip replacements are the most common. However, surgeons can also replace the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and ankle joints. Replacement often needs significant recovery to restore the range of motion (ROM).

When is it recommended?

Total joint replacement surgery works for chronic joint conditions that cause pain or instability. Typically, other non-surgical treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, therapy, and activity modifications would be advised first. However, if these non-surgical treatments fail, the only remaining treatment option is surgery. Surgery is also recommended for active people who want to resume activities quickly.

What to expect during the procedure?

Joint replacements happen at a hospital or an ambulatory surgery center (ASC) and take a few hours. First, the damaged bone or cartilage will be removed from the joint. The surgeon will then install a prosthesis that replicates the shape and movement of the joint. Today, minimally invasive surgery, robotic surgery, and other medical marvels make surgery more efficient and successful.

Should you travel after the surgery?

Of course, with any surgery, there is a recovery period. With joint replacements like knee and hip, recovery can take 8-12 weeks. During that time, movement is limited but necessary for recovery. So for patients who travel, recovery time is a genuine concern. Traveling that would require someone to be seated for a long time, whether by car or airplane, may pose a risk of a blood clot. Staying in one position for an extended period can also be uncomfortable, causing more pain than necessary. Traveling immediately after surgery is not recommended. As the weeks progress and there is less pain and more ROM, talk to the surgeon about any travel plans.

Here’s your travel plan

If travel is essential, discuss the issue with the surgeon. Often 3-4-weeks after surgery, sitting for long periods of time is more bearable. The surgeon may recommend a blood thinner to prevent blood clots, as long as there are no pre-existing heart conditions. When traveling, make sure to stop and move around often while staying hydrated. Both actions can reduce the chances of pain and blood clots. Wearing compressing sleeves can also help. Err on the side of caution and take the surgeon’s advice for long-distance travel.

What are the potential risks?

With any surgery, despite the upside, there are risks. These risks are minimized in a controlled environment, which is why waiting to travel is best. The potential risks include infection, blood clots, nerve injury, and problems with the prosthesis. Among these, the most serious complications would be those related to blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. There may also be other risks depending on a patient’s health status and the type of joint replacement. The healthcare provider will discuss these specific risks.

Weigh the pros and cons of travel

The goal of the joint replacement is to reduce pain and improve the range of motion. To achieve these benefits, a smooth recovery is vital. Traveling immediately after surgery can be potentially dangerous, increasing the risks of complications. There should be a wait time of at least 3 weeks or when the patient feels comfortable. Speak with the surgeon before surgery about potential travel plans and follow the advice for the best outcome.