Replacing your joints
Total joint replacement seeks to replace damaged or diseased cartilage and bone with prosthetics. Severe arthritis can wear away the smooth cartilage that prevents friction and can also damage the bone. Using minimally invasive means, the surgeon can perform the surgery with small incisions, a scope, and small tools. First, the diseased cartilage and bone are removed. The surgeon will then install a prosthetic joint made of ceramic, metal, or plastic. Total joint replacement often happens on knees, hips, and occasionally on elbows and shoulders.
It’s time for rehab
Minimally invasive surgery means that most patients can leave the hospital the same day. Rehabilitation begins immediately after surgery. The goal of rehabilitation is to strengthen the joint and get the body accustomed to the new prosthetic. Rehab work also restores the range of motion, helping patients to return to regular movement. A combination of physical therapy, pain management, and physician consultation makes up the rehabilitation process.
How long does rehab take?
Changes in surgical techniques have significantly reduced recovery times. With minimally invasive surgery, recovery time can take 2-3 months on average to resume normal activities. This timeframe can vary depending on the overall health of the patient. To experience the full benefits of a new joint can take several more months, up to a year. On average, after rehabilitation, total joint replacement has a high satisfaction rate.
Starting your rehab
The next day after surgery, the surgeon will encourage walking a short distance with a walker. During the first 1-2 weeks, the patient will visit a physical therapist a few times per week. The therapist will encourage movement while providing exercises to strengthen the joint. For example, for knee and hip replacement, the therapist might use a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. The therapist will also provide exercises to perform at home. Pain management will come in the form of medication, ice, and resting the affected joint.
Ramping things up
Physical therapy can continue for up to 4 weeks or more, depending on the therapist’s assessment. At this stage, the patient should be able to have more range of motion. Walking longer distances unassisted is also possible and recommended. The goal at this stage is to continue strengthening the muscles around the joints, improving flexibility and endurance. Pain management will continue as needed but should reduce in frequency. Weights can help speed up rehab, and other therapy devices can improve balance and muscle activation.
Getting back to business
At the 8-week mark, the patient should be able to move freely without assistive devices. The physical therapist will still encourage exercise and a healthy diet. During rehab, patients visit the surgeon to review the prosthetic and answer any questions about recovery. The patient should be able to resume activities like driving, golf, swimming, and cycling. With proper rehab, total joint replacement can reduce severe pain and stiffness. A new limb means a new lease on life.