Health Check

Recovering from joint replacement surgery

Know the warning signs and get the most out of your rehab

Written by Sophie Jackson
Cropped shot of a man being treated by a physiotherapist

What you should know when you are recovering from surgery

Medibank wants your surgery and rehabilitation to go as smoothly as possible and for you to make a speedy recovery, so we’ve put together this information to help you recover.

From knowing important warning signs and getting the most out of your rehab– it helps to be informed.

Home from hospital

If you are healthy, recovering well and have few complications, you may be able to go home a few days after the surgery, though many people will need to stay in hospital for six to eight days. If you are elderly or have additional conditions you may need to spend several weeks in a rehabilitation centre before going home.

Talk to your doctor or hospital staff about your options for rehabilitation and which one is best for you. Most importantly, before you leave hospital, ask for a copy of your discharge summary to take home with you and keep safe, and for a copy to be sent to your GP. This is a record of your care from when you were admitted up to your discharge from hospital. It includes details about your surgery, notes from your doctors and what your health is like when you leave. If your doctor hasn’t completed your discharge summary by the time you are leaving hospital, ask for a copy to be sent to you.

Things to know before you go home

Know your warning signs

Before you go home from hospital, make sure you know the warning signs of any complications and contact your doctor promptly if you experience any of them. For example, tenderness, redness and swelling of your calf or swelling of your thigh, ankle, or foot may be warning signs of a blood clot, while the warning signs of infection may include fever, chills, tenderness and swelling of the joint,

Signs of DVT

Just like going on a long haul flight, knee or hip replacement surgery is a risk factor for Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT. A DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of your deep veins, usually in your leg. It can cause pain and swelling and may lead to serious complications such as pulmonary embolism and long-term problems in the legs.

There are ways to prevent DVT such as wearing compression stockings, taking anti-coagulants (blood thinners) and the use of a special pump to encourage blood flow. Before you go to hospital, your doctor should assess your level of risk and give you appropriate actions to take.

Getting the most out of rehabilitation

Rehabilitation after joint replacement surgery is a gradual process and full recovery will usually take a few months. Your doctor and other healthcare professionals, such as your physio and exercise physiologist, will support you through this, but it is ultimately up to you to get the most out of it.

Life with your new joint

Recovery after joint replacement surgery takes time. It may take several months before the full benefits of the operation are felt. In the period immediately after surgery a physiotherapist can show you exercises that will aid your recovery and increase your mobility.

If you are having difficulty performing everyday tasks then an Occupational Therapist can recommend aids and equipment to help you maintain your independence. There’ll also be times when it’s important to tell someone you have an artificial joint – like MRI staff and when you’re going through an x-ray scanner at the airport (or secure buildings).

Getting back into the swing of things

Start gentle activity sooner rather than later after surgery. Staying active will help you maintain strength, flexibility, and endurance. Activities can include walking, swimming (after your wound is completely healed), aqua aerobics, dancing, bicycling (get a professional to help you set up the bike so it fits you correctly first).

More strenuous and jarring activities, such as jogging or tennis, are not advised after a hip replacement.

Maintain a healthy weight

If you are overweight it is best to try to get down to a healthy weight. Because of the way joints are structured, every added kilo of body weight adds between 3 -5 kilos of stress to the joints. Controlling your weight will help your new joint last longer.

It’s important to make any changes to your lifestyle safely. Remember that, no matter what your health status, this information is designed to complement the information provided by your doctor.

At Medibank, we know that going to hospital can be a challenging time. Did you know that if you are a Medibank member with hospital cover, you can call a Medibank nurse with any health question you or your family may have, 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Our nurses can help you in the lead up to your hospital stay to understand your surgery. They can also assist after you get home with any recovery and rehab queries. To speak to a Medibank Nurse call 1800 644 325. You can also get more information and advice about preparing for hospital and recovering well here.

Written by Sophie Jackson

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