Recovering From a Joint Replacement
Being an informed and active participant in your own care gives you an advantage in returning to your everyday life with a newly replaced joint.
Knowing what to expect after surgery may help lead to a smoother recovery. Use the patient guide below to help you understand your recovery from a joint replacement procedure.
After Your Surgery
When you are ready to leave the recovery room, we will move you to a private hospital room. Your family and friends can meet you there.
Your nursing team will visit you at least once an hour to check your vital signs and help control your pain. They also will teach you how to do deep breathing exercises to keep your lungs clear.
We will work with you to take care of your pain, starting in the recovery room and during your stay in the hospital. We want to help you control your pain so that you will be able to walk around, breathe easily, sleep well and get better faster.
Your nurse will ask you each day what your level of pain is so that you can get the best medication. Our goal is to keep you as comfortable as we can.
It is normal to feel some pain after surgery and while you are healing, even when you are taking pain medication. If you are having pain that is getting worse and your pain medication is not helping, tell your nurse. We have other ways to treat your pain, so talk to us.
If we treat your pain before it becomes too strong, you will need less pain medication. Most people who take pain medication do not get addicted to it. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about this.
In the recovery room, nurses will take care of you until you are stable. Being stable means that you are awake and able to talk, and that your body is working properly (your heart and blood pressure are normal). Your coach or family member can visit you while you are in the recovery room.
You will have a dressing (bandage) covering your surgical site. You may have a tube to drain fluid away from the incision (cuts in skin). You also may have a drain in your bladder called a catheter. Catheters help your care team watch and measure your urine (pee). To lower the risk of infection, we will take the catheter out soon after your surgery.
Most people will have compression sleeves or foot pumps on their legs to help prevent blood clots. If you have a hip replacement surgery, you may wake up with a pillow between your legs to keep you from crossing your legs.
Our goal is to do all we can and work with you to make sure that you have a successful surgery and recovery. Here are things you can do to help you heal more quickly and keep you from having problems after your surgery:
- Always get help to get out of bed or walk. A nurse, clinical partner or therapist will help you.
- Keep the compression sleeves or foot pump on your legs. They help stop blood clots in your legs or lungs.
- Take only the medications that your doctor has ordered for you. If you stopped taking any medications before your surgery, ask your doctor when it is safe to start taking them again.
- Keep doing your deep breathing exercises to open your lungs. Using your incentive spirometer will help keep your lungs clear. This will help prevent pneumonia. We want you to do 10 deep breathing exercises every hour.
- Do all the exercises that your physical therapist teaches you. They will help you get stronger, have better balance and be more flexible.
- Drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated—your body needs the water to heal and work best.
- Eat plenty of healthy foods to help you heal and get strong again.
- Talk to your care team right away if you have questions or concerns.
Going From Hospital to Home
Once you can walk safely, do your exercises and your surgeon says you are ready, it will be time to go home.
Before you leave, your case manager will talk to you to make sure that your discharge plan is still good and that you have everything that you need to heal at home. Your nurse will talk with you and your coach about your home care instructions. The instructions will tell you when to take your medications, when you can shower and how to take care of your incision site (the cut where you had surgery). You may have special instructions from your surgeon and exercises from your physical therapist.
If you no longer need hospital care but it isn't safe for you to go home, tell your joint surgery ambulatory care manager. They will work with your surgeon and hospital case manager to find a place for you to recover. One such place is called a skilled nursing facility (SNF).
If you go to a skilled nursing facility, your joint surgery ambulatory care manager will work with the facility's case manager. This case manager will work with you to make sure that you have a safe transition back home. Most people stay at a skilled nursing facility for two to five days before they go home.
When you leave the hospital, the nurses will give you a list of your pain medications. They will tell you how to take the medications and will provide written instructions. Make sure that you understand the instructions. Ask as many questions as you need.
If your surgeon did not give you a prescription before your surgery, we will make sure that you have one before you leave the hospital. If you need to fill your prescriptions, your care team can order them for you and bring them to your room before you leave. We take most insurance plans and will bill your insurance for you.
Some of the medications that you were taking before your surgery may change how your body heals. Talk to your surgeon before you start taking any of these medications again.
Pain medications can cause constipation (problems with bowel movements—poop). Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that are high in fiber to help prevent this problem. Your doctor may also tell you to take a stool softener, which you can buy at any pharmacy.
It is normal to have some bruising, swelling, pain and redness at the incision site. But if you have any of the symptoms in the list below, call your surgeon:
- A fever above 101.5 degrees
- A mild fever (less than 101.5 degrees) that lasts more than five days
- More and more redness or swelling at the incision site
- After you put on a new dressing or bandage, in less than six hours the liquid coming from your incision site soaks it (it starts dripping)
- Your incision site smells bad
- Any of your incisions open
- Pain in your calf or lower leg
- Severe pain that does not get better when you take pain medications
Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you have:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath (you can't take a deep breath)
Your surgeon will decide the best dressing (bandage) for your incisions and will tell you how to care for your incisions as they heal.
Until you heal, it is very important to keep your dressing and incisions dry—do not let them get wet. Your care team will let you know when it is safe to take a shower.
If your surgeon uses staples to close your incisions, he or she will tell you how to take care of them. If your incision was closed with staples, the staples will be removed during your post-op (after surgery) visit with your surgeon.
Swelling is normal after your surgery. You can keep the swelling down by putting ice packs on the swollen area. Put a clean cloth between the ice pack and your skin. Do not put the ice pack on your bare skin.
Recovering at Home
Your joint surgery ambulatory case manager will call you at home 24 to 48 hours after you leave the hospital. The case manager will ask you how you are feeling and answer your questions. He or she will make sure that you have made the follow-up appointment with your surgeon. The case manager also will make sure that you have all your prescribed medications.
If you have signed up for HealthLoop, you will get email reminders from your doctor about your follow-up care. You will get these emails for up to 17 days after you leave the hospital.
You will need to have physical therapy after your surgery. Be patient while you are healing. It often takes about three to six weeks to get back your strength with physical therapy. It is normal to feel weak and tired after surgery. Do not rush the healing process by going back to work or starting your normal activities too soon.
The types of exercises that you will do during physical therapy are:
- Strengthening exercises using your body weight as resistance
- Range-of-motion exercises to help you bend and stretch your muscles around your new joint
- Stabilization exercises to help you get your balance back and to build up the muscles around your new joint
You may think that you should be very careful with your new joint and that it is best for your joint if you are siting. Sitting too long is not good for your joint. Try not to sit for more than two to three hours at a time. You should take turns between sitting, taking short walks and resting.
Do not have any dental work done, including teeth cleaning, for at least three months after surgery. This will help prevent infection. You also may need to take antibiotics before you have any future dental procedures, such as teeth cleaning, root canals and tooth removal. Talk to your doctor and your dentist to decide what is best for you.
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