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Making Replacement Surgery a Success

separator You need a good surgical team to make sure your hip or knee replacement is successful. But after that, most of the work is up to you. The final outcome of your surgery depends a lot on what you put into your rehabilitation.

It’s common for people who have replacement surgery to find the recovery a little harder than they expected. Their doctors usually explain quite clearly that it’s going to take a lot of work, but for some reason, people tend to put this out of their minds. Then reality hits, and they may feel a little bit surprised at the amount of effort it takes. They’ve maybe seen other people who had the surgery a while ago and now are walking around without any trouble. But those people probably had to work hard to recover too.

Here’s a brief rundown of the kinds of things you’ll need to be doing as you recover from your surgery. But don’t count on just this list. Be sure to discuss your recovery with your doctor, and ask questions until you feel as though you know exactly what to expect.

Preparing your home before the surgery
These are the kinds of things you’ll need to have in place when you get home from the hospital:

  • In each room you’ll be spending time in, make sure the things you use regularly are within easy reach. The idea is to avoid bending over or reaching up high.
  • Rearrange furniture so that you can walk a straight path from room to room.
  • Make sure you have a couple of hard, straight chairs. They’re easier to get into and out of than chairs with soft cushions. The seat itself should be fairly high as well.
  • Keep any throw rugs out of the way during your recovery time.

If you live alone, ask your doctor or physical therapist how much help you’ll need when you get home. They may suggest that you have someone stay with you at first, or that someone check on you periodically, so be sure to plan for that.

Right after the surgery
Usually, a physical therapist visits you the day after the surgery and encourages you to become active. Some people, understandably, find this difficult. Many people feel queasy, tired or simply out of it after an operation. But it’s important to start moving to prevent formation of blood clots, to promote healing and to help your body handle the effects of the anesthesia. You’ll probably do breathing exercises and simple leg movements. And most people stand up right away too. Be sure to ask your physical therapist exactly how much weight you should put on the leg that has the new joint.

You’ll probably experience pain after the operation, but it’s difficult to predict how much. It varies for everybody. The main thing to remember is that it’s okay to take pain medicine. Controlling your pain is an important part of healing.

While you’re in the hospital, a physical therapist will work with you to get you moving and to show you the kinds of exercises you’ll need to do when you get home.

When you get home
Most people go home from the hospital about three to 10 days after the surgery. Once you’re home, these are some of the things you’ll need to pay attention to:

Wound care: Follow closely all of your doctor’s instructions about caring for your incision. It’s the best way to keep your risk of infection as low as possible. If you notice pain in your calf, chest pain or shortness of breath, call your doctor right away. These could be a signs of a blood clot.

Medications: Your doctor may have prescribed several medications for you after the surgery. Be sure to continue taking them when you get home. They can help prevent infections and blood clots, and in general can help your recovery go as smoothly as possible.

Diet: Most people can eat a normal diet by the time they get home from the hospital. If you’re taking blood thinning medication, you’ll need to make sure not to get too much vitamin K. Foods with a lot of this vitamin include broccoli, cauliflower, liver, green beans, lentils, kale, spinach, turnip greens, lettuce, cabbage and onions.

Rehabilitation: Be sure to keep up with the exercises your physical therapist has recommended. It’s extremely important to adhere completely to your rehab regimen.

It’s also important not to put on weight, because that puts more stress on your new joint.

Getting back to normal
Getting back to normal takes time. You’ll have good days and not-so-good days. It’s normal to feel discouraged sometimes. But always keep in mind that ups and downs are normal, and the most important thing is to do all of the exercises your physical therapist recommends, as long and as often as you should. The worst thing you can do for yourself is to get home, turn on the television and avoid your daily exercises.

Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations about these activities:

Driving: The type of surgery, the leg that’s had the replacement and the type of replacement all determine when you can start driving again. Not being able to drive can be one of the most frustrating things about recovery, but it’s important not to get behind the wheel too soon. The last thing you want to do is risk damaging your new joint.

Going back to work: This depends on the kind of work you do, the kind of replacement you’ve had and the progress you make once you get home. Typically, people return to work six to eight weeks after knee replacement surgery and three to six months after a hip replacement.

Exercising (beyond your rehab work): Ask your doctor about any exercises you’d like do, and ask when it’s safe to start doing them. It’s a great idea to be as active as you can. But don’t try to replace your rehab exercises with other exercises. You’ll have to do both. Some of the more common activities that people often do include walking, swimming and cycling. Your doctor will probably recommend avoiding activities that put stress on your joint, such as tennis, football, baseball, squash, badminton, weight lifting, jogging or horseback riding.

As you continue your rehab program, you should notice improvements from week to week and month to month. But don’t be surprised if it takes nearly a year to feel as if you’re completely back to normal.

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery; The Arthritis Foundation
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