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Joint Replacement Can Get Your Life Back to Active

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Undergoing joint replacement surgery of the hip or knee can feel a little scary but it is also exciting. The promise of moving freely and without pain can help keep you going when recovery is hard.

“Many people have been suffering from pain for years before they have joint replacement surgery,” said James Ryan, MD, from Samaritan Medical Group Orthopedics - Albany. “Recovering from surgery isn’t easy, but it’s usually very encouraging for people to be rid of the pain of arthritis in their new joint.”

If you are wondering whether it’s time to talk to your doctor about joint replacement surgery, here are five things to understand or consider as you plan for surgery and recovery:

First Week – Make Plans for Help at Home

Before you leave the hospital, your medical team will make sure you can get in and out of bed and use the bathroom safely. However, that doesn’t mean you should be on your own. Once you get home, it will be important to have someone to help you fix meals, administer pain medication, drive to appointments and assist with other daily tasks that might be difficult to do on your own.

Using a Cane or Walker Is Common at First

The first few weeks your body will be recovering from surgery and your muscles will be weaker because of the swelling. You will use a cane or walker to get around the house and you might not be ready to tackle the stairs right away. You will notice small improvements over the next few weeks. Exercise will be very important during this time since movement is the best way to regain full use of your joint, so keep trying to push yourself a little every day.

Your orthopedic surgeon will give you information about physical therapy and exercises to do while you recover to help you build strength and flexibility. In addition, walking and riding a stationary bike are two exercises that will help build your overall muscle strength and endurance.

When Are Benefits Noticeable

At six weeks, you’ll start seeing the benefit of your new joint. Walking is more comfortable and you can probably do it without a cane. Your surgeon may clear you to resume low-impact activities.

Between three and six weeks after surgery you will likely begin driving and head back at work if you have a desk job. If your job includes a lot of standing, climbing or repetitive movements it may take eight to 12 weeks before you can to return to work. Those who do manual labor may need longer.

When Can You Resume Activities

Although you may be anxious to jump right back into your old activities, Dr. Ryan cautions that realizing the full potential of your new joint may take six months to a year.

“Low-impact activities like swimming or golf can usually be started after six weeks, but things like skiing or racquetball place much more force on the joint,” said Dr. Ryan. “We want to make sure that all the supportive muscles around the new joint are strong and fully conditioned before you start up again.”

Follow the activity guidelines set by your surgeon and physical therapist. Doing too much too soon — at work or play — can seriously compromise your new joint. If your joint loosens from where it is attached to your bones you may need a revision surgery, which is longer and more complex than the first procedure.

How Long Do Joint Replacements Last

It can be hard to estimate how long a joint will last since materials technology and surgical techniques are continually improving and there is some delay from collecting data. Recent research published in the Lancet found that nearly 90% of hip replacements lasted 15 years, while 58% last 25 years. For total knee replacements, 93% lasted 15 years and 82% lasted 25 years.

To help ensure your new joint lasts for as long as possible, Dr. Ryan recommends maintaining a healthy weight and staying active.

“We used to say that joints were good for 10 to 15 years but new compounds have made it probable that they will last much longer,” said Dr. Ryan.

Learn more about orthopedic services at Samaritan and where to find rehabilitation services near you.