After Joint Replacement Surgery

Recovery times from hip and knee replacement surgeries vary, and even with newer, minimally invasive surgical techniques, you'll need time to heal completely. Here's what to expect.

Hip and knee replacement surgeries ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis and improve mobility, but you'll have work to do at home to help your healing along once you leave the hospital. Physical therapy begins immediately to get your new joint moving as soon as possible, and may even start in the hospital on the same day as your surgery. You will leave the hospital on crutches or with a walker.

After surgery, you'll stay up to several days in the hospital, depending on how well your recovery progresses. With minimally invasive surgery, your stay is likely to be shorter. If you are able to get out of your hospital bed and walk with crutches or a walker, you'll be discharged to go directly home from the hospital, and arrangements will be made for a physical and/or occupational therapist to come to your home two or three times a week until you can travel to a physical therapy clinic. If your doctor feels you are not safe to go directly home, you may be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital or skilled nursing facility for inpatient therapy.

Once home, you'll be advised to wait up to six weeks before resuming normal, everyday activities, such as driving, walking long distances, using a normal toilet seat, participating in sexual activities, and going back to work, according to Hospital for Special Surgery. Initially, you will probably need help with even the most routine chores. During this time, you must be very careful not to fall and not to attempt climbing stairs or other precarious activities without help. Plan in advance to get help from family and friends or to hire a home-health aide for at least the first four or five days that you are home following surgery.

Besides physical therapy, you will have to attend to your incision. Initially, you may be given a cooling device or instructions for using ice packs to relieve any pain or swelling.  You must keep the area dry for a couple of weeks until the incision is healed and for a couple of days longer after your staples are removed.

Barring complications, most of your recovery will occur during the first month post-surgery, but muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the area of surgery may still be stiff and painful and take longer to heal completely. Your age, weight, medical history, muscle strength, and other individual circumstance will affect your total recovery time. If you had minimally invasive surgery, your total recovery time may be shorter than with conventional surgery.

Your doctor will ask you to schedule ongoing follow-up visits over the course of the year following joint replacement surgery. These appointments will be scheduled closer together directly following your surgery but then they will be scheduled months apart.

Dr. Nathan Wei reviewed this article.


New York University: The Total Joint e-Class: What to Expect From Your Joint Replacement Surgery Web Sept 2012

Hospital for Special Surgery: HSS News Network-Joint Replacement: New Simulator Helps Hip Replacement Patients Get Back on the Road Web Sept 2012

University of California, San Francisco: Arthritis & Joint Replacement
Hip Replacement Surgery Web Sept 2012

Knee Replacement Surgery Web Sept 2012

Cedars Sinai: Minimally Invasive Surgery - Knee