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Healing: how long does it take?

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Josephine NURSE DIRECTOR, BONESMART Administrator

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Joint Replacement Surgery?

Most patients undergoing total hip/knee replacement surgery want to know when they'll be able to return to their normal life. "Recovery time" is a common question posed to specialists and non-specialists alike. There are many factors that can contribute to recovery time, but typically a patient's recovery journey is unique to them. To be more specific, however, we can examine the difference between "short-term recovery" and "long-term recovery".

Short-term recovery in the first 12 or so weeks, involves the early stages of recovery, such as the ability to get out of the hospital bed and be discharged from the hospital. On days 1 or 2, most patients are given a walker to stabilize them. By the day 3-5, most patients can go home. Short-term recovery also involves getting off major pain killers and having a full night's sleep without pills. Once a patient no longer needs walking aids and can walk around the house without pain - in addition to being able to walk two blocks or around the house without pain or resting - all of these are considered signs of short-term recovery.

Long-term recovery involves the complete healing of surgical wounds and internal soft tissues. When a patient can return to work and the activities of daily living, they are on the way to achieving the full term of recovery. Another indicator is when the patient finally feel s normal again. The average long-term recovery for joint replacement patients is approximately 6 months although it can take up to a year to be totally complete. Dr. Ian C. Clarke, medical researcher and founder of Peterson Tribology Laboratory for joint replacement at Loma Linda University, writes, "Our surgeons consider that patients have 'recovered' when their current status has improved much beyond their arthritic pre-op pain level and dysfunction."

Recovery and energy

There are a number of contributing factors that influence recovery time. A positive attitude is everything. Patients should be prepared for effort in PT,

some pain, though manageable, and an expectation that the future is going to be bright. However, it should be borne in mind that energy levels are going to be an issue for some weeks and even months after surgery. It's so easy to suppose that once you've got going again and ditched the aids and the pain meds, you're back to normal and should get on with life. But healing goes on for many months, not only the superficial but the deep tissues too. It all takes energy so you shouldn't be surprised if you still feel exhausted after a day's work or a big shopping trip. That might even be one of the last things to 'get back to normal'!

Having access to information about hip/knee replacement surgery and a strong support network is also important to recovery.

Adequate preparation for the recovery period after surgery will increase the chances of a smoother, quicker recovery. Preparing the home for recovery by removing slip mats and items that the patient can trip on plus organizing medical supplies and aids. If the patient plans to have a person to assist them during the day, it is better to make arrangements ahead of time.

Medical support relating to pain management is also recommended. So many patients have phobias about getting addicted to pain meds. They can ruin their recovery, or at least make it a very miserable experience, by not taking the medication when they should. The impact of pain management on recovery cannot be emphasized enough.

Joint replacement patients should know that they can approach their GP or a Pain Management Clinic as well as their orthopaedic surgeon for help in pain management.

Generally speaking, hip replacement patients do recover more quickly than knee replacement patients, for example. It should be noted, however, that recovery time for either can differ vastly from patient to patient.

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