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Joint replacement recovery: what to expect

by Shannon Lee

Joint replacement is a common surgery for seniors, and can lead to a move active and pain-free life. Here are a few tips to make the difficult recovery from joint replacement surgery a little easier.

As you age, your body slowly wears out. Joints are especially vulnerable to the passage of time, and sometimes the pain and lack of mobility can lead to joint replacement. Though joint replacement can enhance the quality of life for seniors, recovery from the surgery can be difficult.

Joint Replacement Surgery: Pros and Cons

Choosing joint replacement surgery might seem like an easy decision to make, but there are both advantages and disadvantages to that new joint. Do the pros outweigh the cons?

The Pros:

  • Severe pain can be improved within days
  • Mobility is much improved
  • The pain of surgery usually disappears within weeks
  • Less invasive options for replacement are increasingly common
  • Most patients recover in about six months

The Cons:

  • The new joint might have to be replaced in 10-15 years
  • The joint may remain swollen for months
  • There will be a scar, and the area around the joint might be permanently numb
  • The joint might "click" upon moving
  • Surgery poses the risk of complications

Joint Replacement After-Care

Caring for your new joint can be difficult at first. Pain medication might make you drowsy, and the pain of moving your new joint might prevent you from sleeping like you should. Caring for the incision and controlling discomfort should be of the utmost importance. You should also be alert to any changes in the incision area and the level of pain, as these could be signals of a post-operative infection.

Those who are up and moving soon after surgery often have an easier recovery. Perform all the exercises your doctor suggests, and take care not to bend your new joint too far.

Tips to Ease Recovery

One of the most important aspects of joint replacement recovery is preventing a fall or other injury that could damage the joint and put you right back in the hospital. Before you go in for the surgery, work to make your home a safer place.

  • Widen paths through the house to accommodate a walker or the use of a cane
  • Make sure the entire house is well-lit
  • Remove all possible hazards from the floor, such as extension cords and throw rugs
  • Keep small yet necessary items, such as medications, glasses, and remote controls, in a basket or box that is easy to reach
  • Put cooking utensils and food supplies where they can be reached without stretching
  • Narcotic pain medication can cause constipation. Keep a stool softener handy, just in case

Once you're home, these general tips can help your recovery:

  • The incision should be kept clean and dry--cover it with a light dressing until the staples are removed
  • Take pain medication at least 30 minutes before the start of physical therapy
  • Change position often, at least every 45 minutes, to keep the area flexible
  • Ice packs can help with pain control
  • Don't lift heavy objects for the first three months, regardless of which joint was replaced

A Final Word: Danger Signs

Watch carefully for signs of infection. This can include redness around the incision, increased tenderness and pain, and increased drainage or odor. If you begin running a fever or feel sick, contact the doctor immediately.