Exercise Can Be Gradually Regained After Joint Replacement Surgery

Time and patience key in getting back to a healthy lifestyle

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (March 14, 2018) – Joint replacement can hold the promise of a more active life for those who have lost the ability to exercise due to pain, but the road to recovery may require some time and patience.

Hip and knee replacements are the most common types of total joint replacement surgeries performed each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Age and wear and tear are among the reasons for joint replacement, which involves removing a diseased joint and replacing it with a metal, plastic or ceramic device called a prosthesis. 

The prosthesis is designed to replicate the movement of a normal, healthy joint, but a person’s journey back to the state they were in before they began experiencing pain isn’t overnight, said Richard Davis II, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Premier Orthopedics.

“The type of activity a person can engage in after surgery is really dependent on what they were doing prior to getting a joint replaced,” said Dr. Davis, who practices with Premier Physician Network. “Someone who was active and exercised a couple of times a week is going to have an easier time becoming active after surgery than someone who wasn’t as active.”

The amount of time it takes to get back into an active lifestyle after surgery may also be dependent on what type of replacement was done. Typically, hip replacements have a shorter recovery time than a total knee replacement, Dr. Davis said. A hip replacement takes about six to eight weeks of recovery time to get back to normal activity without limitation.  A knee replacement includes six weeks of  physical therapy to regain normal knee motion and then several weeks of physical therapy to help strengthen the surrounding muscles prior to resuming regular activity, he said.  The recovery period of a knee replacement also depends on if the patient had a partial or a total knee replacement performed. 

“It can take  two to three months after a person undergoes a knee replacement before they can engage in regular, low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, or biking,” he said.

Dr. Davis said it’s important to keep in mind the baseline recommendations for daily exercise for all individuals. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least three to four times a week. This amount of exercise has been shown to improve patients’ quality of life including their cardiovascular health and bone strength as well as decreasing depression and anxiety. 

Dr. Davis said this level of activity will not be achieved overnight, and suggests people keep the following points in mind:

  • Watch out for the signs – Slowly move back into an active lifestyle while being aware of the signs that may signal you need to slow down. This is easier to see with a knee replacement where swelling around the knee is the first sign that activity needs to slow down.
  • Don’t skimp on therapy – Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around the replaced joint.  Many times, the muscles are weak before surgery because the patient has not been as active due to the arthritis pain.  Participating in therapy will make a return to physical activity smoother and with less risk for injury.
  • Preservation is the goal – Preserving a joint prosthesis should always be the goal for a patient. For this reason, low-impact sports are recommended. Those who return to more high-impact sports on a regular basis, such as running, may feel good while they are doing it, but could run the risk of having the prosthesis replaced quicker than those who don’t engage in such activity.
  • Past may determine the future – How active you were prior to experiencing pain or injury to the joint will determine what you are able to do after surgery. Naturally, someone who was very active prior to surgery will be able to have a higher level of physical activity after a replacement.

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