Joint replacement—particularly hip and knee replacement—is very common, with over one million people in the US choosing to have joint replacement surgeries every year. The need for joint replacement is more prevalent in adults, with the average age of patients being around 65 years old. However, other factors like external injuries or genetics may contribute to the need for joint replacement surgery earlier in life.

With technological advancements and improved techniques, joint replacement surgery is now considered a “minimal risk procedure” for otherwise healthy individuals. The recovery time is also significantly reduced. But how do you know if you need joint replacement surgery, and what should you expect from the procedure (surgery) and recovery (physical therapy)? 

Read on to learn all about physical therapy and joint replacement.

What is Joint Replacement?

Joint replacement is a surgical procedure that involves the removal and replacement of a damaged or arthritic part of the joint. The damaged joint surfaces are replaced with metal implants and a very hard piece of plastic goes between the metal components.

The surgery is considered minimally invasive. However, the surgeon must make an incision large enough to position the implants correctly, normally between a few centimeters to a few inches in length. 

The procedure usually lasts 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Based on the patient’s overall health and age, they may be discharged the same day or the next day.  

What to Expect Before Joint Replacement

Physicians typically employ several non-operative treatments to treat the pain before recommending surgery. Most common non-operative treatment options include over-the-counter medicines to manage pain, physical exercises and stretches and other alternatives, such as cortisone shots or gel injections.

The goal of these treatments is to reduce inflammation and pain. However, it is important to understand that while these alternatives may produce effective results, they do not provide permanent relief. Instead, they offer temporary solutions to delay the surgery for as long as possible.

Pre-Hab and Its Advantages 

Joint replacement surgery is often recommended once alternative treatments fail to provide relief. It is generally preceded by “pre-hab” physical therapy that is designed to prepare the patient for surgery. The goal of pre-hab is to increase strength and range of mobility in the joint, helping to provide a quick and seamless recovery after surgery. In other words, pre-hab helps with post-surgical aspects of joint replacement by getting you as strong and flexible as possible. Most of the exercises introduced in the pre-hab continue in the post-operative phase, which means that patients who go into pre-hab get a head start at physical therapy following surgery.

What to Expect After Joint Replacement

As you’d imagine, it’s recommended that you take it easy for a few days after surgery. There are generally no weight-bearing restrictions, but most hip and knee replacement patients are required to use a walker for at least a day or two following the procedure to avoid falling incidents. 

Physical therapy is just as important as the surgery and starts relatively quickly after surgery. Depending on the health status of the patient, it may start right after surgery, or the patient may wait a few days before beginning physical therapy. Thanks to the state-of-the-art technology and new and improved pain management options, patients are expected to get up and get moving quickly.

Most patients go in for physical therapy around three days a week, first familiarizing the patient with the basic PT rules, then focusing on strength training and increasing the range of motion and control. Different techniques such as Estim and compressions may be employed by your physical therapist.

A typical PT session lasts for around an hour, but patients should expect to perform exercises at home as well. Doing this “homework” regularly makes a huge difference in your recovery time. 

Patients can expect to go back to their normal routine within a few days. However, complete recovery usually takes around three months.

The Bottom Line

Joint replacement surgery has evolved and improved in the past few decades in terms of technique, materials, pain management, and recovery time. Thanks to technological advancements and improvements, joint replacement done today is likely to last 15 to 20 years or longer!

If you or someone you know is experiencing joint pain or considering joint replacement surgery, contact your nearest HealthWorks location today to explore your options and the best course of action.