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How to Recover Quickly from Hip or Knee Surgery

It is well documented that we are living in an aging population. People are living longer which is fantastic, but it means that our joints need to keep up with us and the extra years mean they will undergo more wear and tear. Hip and knee surgeries are incredibly common, with more modern techniques and surgical advances recovery is shorter however it is still useful to consider these factors to aid your recovery.

Please note: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice and you should always consult a medical professional before taking or stopping taking any medication or making any changes to your daily routine. 

Article Written by Caroline Jones, Registered Physiotherapist. 

Pain relief

hips xray

Immediately after surgery you’ll no doubt be on some heavy-duty painkillers but these will gradually be weaned over the first couple of days. On return home, you’ll probably still require some pain relief as you’ll continue your healing and as you increase your activity levels, you’ll often feel achy. Only take pain relief as needed as excessive use can have side effects especially for your bowels. You should be guided by your surgeon or your GP in regard to analgesia. Don’t try and “tough it out,” avoiding pain relief, as you need to be able to perform tasks such as walking, showering and exercising and pain can have a negative impact on this.

Ice can be a great natural pain killer and anti-inflammatory. While in hospital you may be given a fancy ice machine to use and these can be hired for use at home, however, there’s nothing wrong with a bag of frozen peas. Only ever apply ice for 20mins at a time before taking it off for at least an hour before the next application and never apply ice directly onto bare skin due to risk of burns.

Active Rest

After any surgery you need to rest but instead of splitting your time between your bed and the couch, think of it as “active rest” This should start on the first day after your surgery. Sit out in your chair for meals, get into the bathroom for a proper (seated) shower and as many short walks as you can tolerate. Even think of walking into the toilet as part of your exercise regime and recovery. Spending too much time in the horizontal position can cause post-operative complications such as chest infections and blood clots. Additionally, joints need weight bearing to facilitate the healing process.

Activities of Daily Living

These are the tasks that you perform on a daily basis, such as toileting, showering, dressing, eating etc. While some tasks will be out of the questions for a while (driving, vacuuming) others are able to be performed, albeit in a modified version. The nurses in hospital will be able to guide you on how best to adapt these activities, most of which you will need to sit down for initially. Your physiotherapist can also give advice on any tasks at home that you may have questions about.

Mobility Aids and Furniture

It is important to be prepared for your discharge home from hospital with aids such as over toilet frames, a suitable armchair, walking frame & a shower stool

Having the right equipment can help to adapt your environment, make it possible and easier to perform functional tasks such as showering and walking. These aids are often discussed in pre-operative education or consult with an Occupational Therapist

Prevention of Post-operative Complications

Although uncommon,  any surgery carries a risk of some complications. Be aware of chest infections (the accumulation of phlegm in your lungs) and atelectasis (the slight collapse of the air sacs, usually in the base of your lungs) after anaesthesia. Practise deep breathing every hour and make sure you can cough up any mucous you may have on your chest.

The other main complication to prevent is a blood clots, known as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT.) You’ll be given compression stockings to wear but it also helps to start mobilising as soon as possible and perform leg circulation exercises whilst in bed.

Range of Movement

One of the main goals after surgery, working on increasing your joint movement helps to prevent stiffness and can also assist with pain relief. Your physiotherapist will show you specific exercises in hospital, start gently, but you should be trying to progress further each day to get slightly more movement. First thing in the morning might be quite stiff after not having moved during the night. If you need a bit of help, place a slide sheet, or plastic bag under your foot to reduce friction. For best results, time exercises after your pain relief to perform with maximum coverage.

Strengthening

Your muscles around the joint will be weak from pain and disuse, especially if your mobility has been impaired prior to surgery. Start by performing leg exercises in bed, your physiotherapist will show you these. Then progress bed exercises to sitting and standing. Walking and general day-to-day tasks will also help to build muscle strength back up.

Prehabilitation

While most people have heard of the term rehabilitation in relation to post-surgical recovery, few have heard of “prehabilitation.” This refers to exercise and strengthening before surgery in order increase your baseline level of fitness, improve the tolerance to anaesthesia and reduce the risk of surgical complications. The added benefit is becoming familiar with some of the exercises that you will be expected to perform after surgery. Some hospitals or physio clinics run Prehab programs or simply try to increase your own walking distance and leg strength independently.

Unfortunately, no surgery is completely pain free and healing takes time and patience, but by following these above recommendations, you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of a speedy recovery.

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