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Recovering from joint replacement surgery

What to expect during rehabilitation and recovery from hip or knee replacement

Recovery time for knee or hip replacement can vary. It can take several months to feel the full benefits of your new joint, but as you work through your rehabilitation, you’ll notice that things gradually improve and you can return to more activities you enjoy.

 

a man smiling after doing some exercise

A physiotherapist will show you exercises that will improve your mobility, strength and stamina. Make an extra effort to stick to your exercise program—it can make a big difference to your recovery.

Some pain, discomfort and swelling are normal, but that doesn’t mean you should just try to ignore them. It’s important to manage these symptoms so you can stay active. Read on for tips and information to help you after a joint replacement.

 

Manage pain 

Some pain and discomfort is normal after a hip or knee replacement, particularly when you increase your activity levels or do your physiotherapy sessions. Some tips for managing pain after knee or hip replacement surgery include: 

  • Take pain relief medicines as prescribed. Regular pain relief can help prevent pain from getting worse.
  • Don’t wait for the pain to get bad before you take pain relief medicine. This makes it harder to manage
  • Regular pain relief can make it easier to complete your exercises and make you more likely to get up and move around, which is important as you recover. 
  • Time exercises for 30 minutes after your pain relievers when the medicine is at its most effective.
  • See your doctor if you are having trouble coping with pain.

Manage swelling 

Swelling is normal after a hip  replacement or knee replacement—but it can increase pain and reduce your range of motion, so don’t just grin and bear it.  

  • Cold packs and ice can reduce discomfort and swelling, especially after exercise. Ask your physio how often to use them and how long to keep them on for. Be sure to put a wet towel between the ice or cold pack and your leg to avoid ice burns.
  • Elevating your leg with pillows can also help after a knee replacement. Keep your knee straight when it’s elevated—and don’t keep it elevated overnight. 
  • Talk to your physio or doctor if you’re really stiff and think you may have overdone it. 

Exercise

It’s important to start gentle activity sooner rather than later after joint replacement surgery. Staying active will help you maintain strength, flexibility, and endurance, and can reduce the risk of blood clots. 

Remind yourself that keeping active will help you recover faster, and you’ll actually feel less tired and have more energy if you get up and move around.

Walking, swimming (once your wound has fully healed), aqua aerobics, or cycling on a stationary bike are all low impact activities you can include. Just make sure to have a physio checkthat your bike is properly set up to reduce your chance of injury. Your surgeon will talk to you about what precautions you’ll need to take and for how long.

Make your joint last

Some types of exercise are generally not recommended even after you’ve fully recovered because they put a lot of extra stress which shortens the lifespan of your new joint. These include high impact or contact sports that involve jarring, twisting or sudden changes in direction, as well as activities that involve jumping, jogging or running. 

Taking it easy

Your fitness should return to normal after three months if you stay active, but your balance and coordination take longer. It may be six months or more before your new joint feels completely normal.

Keep up healthy habits

Don’t stop your healthy habits when your rehabilitation ends. Setting goals can help you keep focused, but don’t be discouraged if you have a down day, or don’t achieve your goals for a particular day or week. Just start the next day fresh. Any small steps you take will improve your overall wellbeing.

Keep on top of any other health issues 

Often when people leave hospital, they find themselves focusing a lot on whatever sent them to hospital in the first place. But if you have any other health conditions, it’s especially important to keep them under control.

Make sure you have an up-to-date plan to manage any other health conditions you have,  and see your GP regularly. The last thing you need while you recover is a flare-up or to head back to hospital.

Prevent blood clots (also known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT)

Just like going on a long-haul flight, knee or hip replacement surgery increases your risk of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot that forms in one of your deep veins, usually in your leg.

DVT can cause pain and swelling in your leg and lead to serious long term issues, and it can be fatal if  the blood clot moves into your lungs

You can reduce your risk of DVT by:

  • Wearing compression stockings if your physio or surgeon recommends them
  • Getting up and moving around regularly (and as soon as possible after surgery)
  • Moving your feet up and down every half hour if you are sitting or lying down for long periods of time
  • Drinking enough water
  • Taking certain medications or using a special pump to encourage blood flow, if prescribed by your doctor. 

See your doctor as soon as you can if you notice pain or swelling in your calf, thigh, ankle or foot. 

Recognise warning signs  

While you recover from surgery, it’s important to look out for warning signs of infection and blood clots. The quicker you recognise an issue, the quicker you can deal with it and get back to focusing on your recovery.  

Signs of infection include:

  • Fever (temperature over 38°C)
  • Swelling, redness or tenderness near your wound
  • Anything oozing from your wound
  • Shaking or chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Dizziness or feeling faint or lightheaded 
  • Pain when you wee or blood in your urine.

Contact your doctor (or emergency department if after hours) if you experience any of these symptoms.

 

Signs of a blood clot or DVT include:

  • Tenderness, redness and swelling in your leg, ankle, or foot
  • Pain in your leg, ankle, or foot

Contact your doctor as soon as you can if you experience any of these symptoms.

 

Signs of a blood clot in your lung include:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid pulse
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling dizzy or faint.

Call 000 if you experience any of these symptoms.

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Members with hospital cover can chat to experienced and qualified nurses over the phone to discuss any health questions or concerns and get professional advice on what to do next. Our nurses are available on 1800 644 325~ for round-the-clock health advice. 

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Sources

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/deep-vein-thrombosis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262341/

Things you need to know

#   Health Concierge is available to all eligible Medibank members who hold hospital cover. Excludes Overseas Visitor Health Cover, Working Visa Health Cover and Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC).

~    OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees). 

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