A New Beginning: What to Know Before and After Joint Replacement Surgery for Arthritis

Living with arthritis can be a daily battle against pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.

When conservative treatments like medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes no longer provide relief, joint replacement surgery can offer a new lease on life.

Here’s what you need to know before and after joint replacement surgery if you have arthritis.

Before Joint Replacement Surgery

#1. Consult with Your Healthcare Team.
  • Before scheduling surgery, consult with your doctor as they can provide a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon (public health care system).
  • For public and private healthcare, the surgeon will assess your specific case and determine if joint replacement is the best option for you.
#2. Understand the Procedure.
  • Educate yourself about the surgery.
  • Ask your surgeon about the type of joint replacement, the materials used (like metal or plastic components), and the expected outcomes.
#3. Prepare Mentally and Physically.
  • Recognise that joint replacement is a major surgery and requires preparation.
  • Your surgeon may recommend physical therapy or exercises to optimise your joint’s condition before the procedure.
#4. Manage Your Expectations.
  • While joint replacement can significantly improve your quality of life, it may not make you as good as new.
  • Realistic expectations are crucial for a successful recovery.
#5. Plan for the Recovery.
  • Arrange for assistance and support during the recovery period.
  • This may involve having someone to help with daily tasks, transportation to medical appointments, and creating a comfortable recovery space in your home.

Pre-Operative Guidelines and Tips 

  • Medication Review: Let your doctor know about all the medications you are taking, as they can interfere with the surgery. Some medications can increase the risk of bleeding (1).
  • Pre-Surgery Exercise: Your surgeon may also recommend a strengthening program, which includes exercises to improve your strength and flexibility prior to surgery in order to help with recovery (1).
  • Stop Cessation: Your doctor and surgeon will ask you to quit smoking prior to surgery – as it can cause complications (1).
  • Risk Discussion: Your healthcare team will thoroughly discuss the potential risks and complications associated with the surgery. Make sure you let your doctor and surgeon know of any underlying health conditions that you may have (1).
  • Anesthesia Options: Your healthcare team will discuss anaesthesia options with you (1).
Preparing for home after surgery:
  • Bedding: Untuck your bedding to help when you get in and out of bed. If your bedroom is on an upper floor, consider moving to the ground floor to avoid stairs, especially after lower limb surgery (1).
  • Safety Measures: Create a safe home environment by removing tripping hazards like clothes, rugs and objects on the ground, and making sure there are clear pathways for easy movement with a walker or cane (1).
  • Accessibility & Assistance: Place frequently used items within easy reach, and plan to have some help at home during the initial days following surgery (1).
  • Convenient Meals: Prepare or purchase single-serving meals. This can help make meal-time easier for you post-recovery (1).
Post-Operative Guidelines and Tips
  • X-Rays & Physiotherapy: X-rays will be taken post-surgery to see how it went. A physiotherapist will guide you through post-operative exercises to improve your mobility. The doctor will recommend continuing these exercises at home (1).
  • Transition to Ward: You will wake up in the recovery room post-surgery, and once you are stable, you will be moved back to the ward (1).
  • Discharge: Discharge will depend on how your recovery is going. Expect to be discharged around 5-7 days post-surgery (1).
  • Caring for Your Joints: In the first few weeks at home, pay special attention to your operated joint. If you’ve had hip surgery, avoid crossing your legs when sitting or standing and keep your knees lower than your hips. Opt for higher chairs or sofas to sit or lay on, and it’s advisable to have assistance while walking (1).

After Joint Replacement Surgery

#1. Pain Management: Pain is common after surgery, but it’s usually well-managed with medication and exercises/stretches. Discuss pain management with your healthcare team to ensure you are comfortable during your recovery.

#2. Physical Therapy: Physical therapy is a key component of rehabilitation. You’ll work with a physiotherapist and/or exercise physiologist to regain strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the joint. Be consistent with your exercises and follow their recommendations.

#3. Walking Aids: You may need crutches, a walker, or a cane temporarily to support your mobility. Use these aids as prescribed to prevent falls or further injury.

#4. Home Modifications: Prepare your home for a safe recovery. This might include installing handrails, adjusting the height of chairs and beds, and ensuring clear pathways for easy movement.

#5. Medication and Wound Care: Follow your surgeon’s instructions for medication and wound care. Proper wound care is essential to prevent infection.

#6. Follow-up Appointments: Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your surgeon. These visits are important for monitoring your progress and addressing any concerns.

#7. Lifestyle Changes: Joint replacement surgery can offer a new beginning, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important for long-term success. This includes staying active, eating a balanced diet, and managing your weight.

#8. Realistic Expectations: Understand that complete recovery takes time. You may experience continued improvement for up to a year or more after surgery.

Potential Complications

While joint replacement surgery is generally safe and effective, it’s essential to be aware of potential complications, which can include infection, blood clots, implant issues, and persistent pain. Always speak to your healthcare team if you are experiencing persistent pain.

Joint replacement surgery can be life-changing for people with arthritis, allowing them to regain mobility and reduce pain. However it’s a significant medical procedure that requires careful preparation and postoperative care.

By working closely with your healthcare team, following their advice, and being patient with your recovery, you can look forward to a brighter future with less arthritis-related pain and greater joint functionality.