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Making the decision to undergo hip or knee replacement surgery is a big deal. While you may be looking forward to the idea of being pain-free and moving around more easily, it’s important to have a realistic outlook of the process.

Knowing what steps to take before the procedure – and what to expect after – can help ease any fears you may have about surgery and can help set you up for a successful recovery.

From operating room to recovery room

A typical hip or knee replacement surgery usually takes about one hour. Once the procedure is complete, you’ll be moved to a recovery room where you’ll be monitored while you wake up from the anesthesia.

“You can expect to be in the recovery room for one or two hours, until the hospital staff determines you’re stable enough to move to our orthopaedic floor,” says Edward Silverman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Hospital in Miami, FL.

What to expect during your hospital stay

After the anesthesia wears off and you’re settled into your regular hospital room, you’ll likely feel tired. You may also start to feel pain, in which case the nurses will give you pain medication and ice for any swelling you’re experiencing at the surgery site.

“We use a complex regimen of pain medications, nerve blocks and local measures to ensure you stay as comfortable as possible.” – Dr. Silverman

Our focus at Mercy hospital is on rapid recovery. Everyone gets physical and occupational therapy twice a day. Most patients walk the same day of the surgery.

You’ll likely meet with a physical therapist who can show you how to properly use a walker, crutches or other assistive devices you may use to help you get around.

Your post-surgery hospital stay could range from one night to a few days, depending on the procedure. “My goal is to get our patients home as soon as they are determined safe. This helps us avoid many of the complications associated with prolonged facility stays.” – Dr. Silverman

Shorter hospital stays are due in large part to improvements in surgical and anesthetic techniques, explains Silverman “Since introducing the minimally invasive anterior approach for hip replacements, our patients at Mercy Hospital are experiencing a more rapid return to normal walking.”

Discharge day

The day after surgery, depending on how you’re feeling, your doctor may start talking about whether you’re ready to go home. But everybody is different – some people may feel eager to get home; others may not feel up to it right away.

Before you’re cleared for discharge, your doctor may want to confirm your ability to successfully do certain tasks on your own, including:

  • Getting in and out of bed
  • Walking with the use of a walker or crutches, and climbing a few stairs
  • Eating, drinking and using the bathroom
  • Moving your joint, especially bending and straightening the knee after a knee replacement
  • Performing any recommended home exercises
  • Managing pain with the prescribed treatment plan

Silverman explains, “The multi-disciplinary team at Mercy makes this easy. The decision will include collaboration from your surgeon, physical and occupational therapist, medical doctor, nurse and case manager.”

Once you’re ready, and you’ve been approved for discharge, you’ll likely meet with a member of the hospital staff (often called a discharge planner) to go over any instructions you need to follow while recovering at home, including:

  • How to properly clean and care for your surgical wound
  • How to spot the warning signs of possible complications
  • How to care for your new knee or hip

Creating an optimal post-surgery home environment

Setting yourself up for success once you get home from the hospital requires putting in some legwork before your procedure. A specialist at the hospital can also help you prepare for a successful transition back home.

One of the main components is making modifications around your home to ensure safety. An occupational therapist may even come to do a home evaluation. The Arthritis Foundation recommends:

  • Eliminating clutter to make getting around easier and to reduce the risk of falls
  • Elevating low furniture – like seats, beds and even toilets – to make getting up easier
  • Installing a seat in the shower as well as grab bars
  • Moving frequently-used items – like pots, pans and plates – to places where you can easily access them
  • Strategizing ways to eliminate unnecessary trips up and down stairs – for example, if your bedroom is upstairs, creating a space for sleeping on the main floor

While assistive devices are also helpful after surgery, you may need to wait until after your procedure to see exactly what you’ll need. That said, having certain items on hand right away can be useful, such as:

  • Ice packs, to help soothe pain and inflammation at the surgical site
  • Comfortable, loose clothing that’s easy to get on and off and move around in
  • Reachers and grabbers to help you get items stored up high and down low
  • A walker basket, to help you move things around more easily
  • A chair on wheels, to make it easier to get around when you’re not up for walking
  • Compression stockings or TED hose to help reduce the risk for blood clot

You may also want to take time before surgery to enlist friends and family. “Both functional and emotional support are important. The recovery process sometimes is a difficult adjustment.” Dr. Silverman explains.

Regaining a sense of normalcy

As the weeks go by during your recovery, you may start to wonder when you’ll get back to your old life. According to Ihekweazu, it typically takes six to eight weeks post-surgery for most patients to feel pain-free, while it’s not uncommon to take up to three to six months overall to start feeling normal again. Every patient is different, of course, and recovery times vary depending on your circumstances.

Check with your doctor about any questions you may have, such as:

  • When can I resume normal activities?
  • When can I drive again?
  • When can I return to work?
  • When can I travel again?

“Have a conversation with your doctor,” says Silverman, “and go from there. Each surgeon will have a slightly different set of guidelines.”

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