Ask Dr. Hansen: What Can I Expect During Rehabilitation After Total Joint Surgery?
Physical therapy during rehabilitation plays a critical role in the success of total joint surgeries. Dr. Hansen explains that understanding what to expect after a joint replacement can help patients to maximize the success of their surgical outcome.
“There’s always going to be a period of discomfort following surgery, but overall recovery is very successful in both knee and hip replacements,” says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dane Hansen. “I like to spend time with my patients explaining exactly what to expect during total joint surgery rehabilitation. Patients have an important role in their recovery, and I think that can be empowering.”
Total joint surgery rehabilitation
Following a total knee or total hip replacement, people are able to put their full weight on the new joint immediately. “People are usually up and walking within hours after surgery,” says Dr. Hansen. “If they are recovering at one of our surgery centers at Vadnais Heights or Eagan, they’ll be taking their first steps on our Secure Tracks system, which is designed to make patients feel safe and confident.”
Patients who’ve had both hip and knee replacements usually say that knee replacement surgery is more difficult and painful to recover from. Knees swell more than hips, so early rehabilitation after a knee replacement is focused on reclaiming range of motion before restrictive scar tissue forms.
Work hard in early physical therapy
“If motion isn’t fully recuperated within the first several weeks, long-term function can be compromised, making it difficult to perform activities such as squatting and kneeling,” explains Dr. Hansen. “The hard work pays off, however, and after a few weeks, most patients feel comfortable and confident, and the total joint surgery rehabilitation shifts focus to strengthening the muscles and getting back to normal activity. I believe that most patients with knee replacements are around 85 to 90 percent improved by three months and are enjoying an active, pain-free lifestyle again.”
Hips typically heal faster after replacement surgery, and usually with less pain. “There may be movement restrictions for the first few weeks after surgery, but rehabilitation is focused on improving walking and getting the strength back into the hip muscles,” says Dr. Hansen. “By six to eight weeks, most hip replacement patients are returning to normal activities while continuing to build strength.”
A multimodal approach
To help with the total joint surgery rehabilitation process, Summit uses a multimodal approach to pain management. Spinal anesthesia or a peripheral nerve block manages pain during the surgery, eliminating the need for stronger anesthesia medications. This leads to less fatigue, nausea, and confusion following surgery. As an added bonus, the effects usually last through the day following surgery and provide pain relief during the early recovery phase. Local injections of long-acting numbing medicines around the hip or knee joint provide additional pain relief. After surgery, the multimodal approach continues with multiple prescription medicines, including anti-inflammatories, acetaminophen, nausea medications, and, at times, muscle relaxants and nerve medications.
“This multimodal approach minimizes the use of stronger narcotic medicines and the unwanted side effects that come with them,” Dr. Hansen points out.
“The science-based data on joint replacement outcomes is excellent,” says Dr. Hansen. “At Summit, we augment these very successful surgeries with the most advanced techniques in pain management and physical therapy to give our patients a confidence-building recovery experience as they reclaim a vibrant active life.”
“Arthritis patients have high expectations for their activity level. With advanced training in minimally invasive surgical techniques and quick-recovery joint replacement, I strive to help my patients return to their fully active lifestyle as quickly as possible.”
Summit’s wellness specialists can work with therapists to enhance physical therapy outcomes.
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