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Preparing for joint replacement surgery

Did you know that close to 100,000 joint replacement surgeries are performed in Australia each year?

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 prepare well.

From understanding what to expect and preparing for your surgery to ensuring you have a safe hospital stay– it helps to be informed.

Before you go to hospital

Here are some ways to prepare before you go to hospital:

  1. Get informed. Before your surgery find out as much as you can about the procedure, including the types and materials used for artificial joints, risks and recovery information. The best place to start is with your doctor. Ask as many questions as you can, and if you think of others later, write them down for your next visit.
  2. Understand the risks. While joint replacement surgery is designed to improve your quality of life, all surgery carries risks and it’s important you understand what those risks are, how likely they are, and what impact they may have. Talk this over with your doctor or surgeon.
  3. Get organised. Prior to going to hospital, talk to your doctor or hospital staff about your options for rehabilitation after your surgery and the services that will be available to you once you get home. Here are more tips to help you get organised.
  4. Get help. Ask your family and friends to help out, because you can’t recover from surgery on your own. If you don’t have a support system you can rely on, talk to your doctor about the option of staying in a rehabilitation hospital for a short period after surgery while you recover.
  5. Get to a Pre-Admission Clinic if you can. Ask your specialist about whether you should go to an Orthopaedic Pre-Admission Clinic. Attending the clinic usually occurs around 10 days before your operation and it gives you a chance to ask all the questions you have about your hospital stay and recovery.

Prepare your body for a full recovery

If you think about it, it makes sense that the fitter, stronger and healthier you are, the better your body will be able to cope with surgery. Making some lifestyle changes in the weeks before the surgery can make a big difference to reducing your chance of complications and speeding up your recovery.

  • Keep moving. Research has shown that a specialised, doctor-approved exercise program six to eight weeks before joint replacement surgery can reduce the time you spend in hospital. To avoid further injury to your joint it is important to consult with your doctor before you start any new exercise program or increase the amount you are already doing.
  • Go to “pre-hab”. Ask your doctor or physio about exercises you can do to prepare your body for your new joint. This is sometimes called “prehabilitation” or pre-hab and it aims to strengthen the muscles that are involved in your rehabilitation process after surgery.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. The closer you get to your ideal weight before the surgery, the less strain and pressure you’ll be putting on your new joint.
  • Eat well. In the lead up to your surgery try to make sure that the foods you eat are healthy and high in nutrients.
  • Cut down on your drinking. Before your surgery, try to limit your daily alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks and aim for at least two alcohol-free days each week.
  • Watch your oral health. Poor oral health has been linked to infections which can cause problems with new joints. Before your surgery make sure you go see your dentist for a check-up and resolve any problems you have with your teeth and gums.
  • Manage your mood. Living with painful joints makes life more difficult and can take a toll on your mood over time. If you are experiencing any depression or anxiety in the lead up to your surgery it is important to seek help as your mental health can have a dramatic impact on your recovery. If you think you need help to manage your stress levels, talk to your doctor about getting the support you need.
  • Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, aim to quit before your surgery.
  • Get healthy. If you have other health conditions alongside your joint problems make sure your doctor knows all about them as they may have an impact on your surgery. As far as possible, try to get the conditions you have under control and get enough rest before you go to hospital.

Your surgery – what to expect

When you arrive at the hospital there will be paperwork to fill out and then you’ll be shown to your room. Generally you’ll meet the nurse who will be looking after you and get the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. You may also meet your anaesthetist who will talk to you about the type of anaesthetic you will receive.

Each surgery is different. Depending on your circumstances you may be given either regional or general anaesthetics. How long it takes depends on how badly the joint is damaged and how the surgery is done. To replace a knee or a hip usually takes between one and three hours, unless there are complicating factors.

Immediately following the surgery, doctors will continue monitoring your “vitals” such as blood pressure and heartrate to make sure you are recovering as you should be. X-rays will be taken and once you’re stable and awake you’ll be moved from the recovery room to the ward – drips in your arm will continue to provide you with fluid and pain relief.

Pain relief

You’ll have some pain and discomfort after your surgery, particularly in the first day or so, but it isn’t a good idea to try and be stoic – putting up with pain until it becomes too bad – because this will make pain relief much harder to manage. It’s important to have regular pain relief to prevent your pain from escalating, so that you can move around more comfortably. Make sure your call bell is always within your reach and you know how to use it.

Getting back on your feet

After your surgery you’ll be encouraged to move as soon as you’re able, to prevent stiffness, muscle wasting and blood clots. Deep breathing and coughing exercises are important to keep your lungs clear. Normally, you will be helped out of bed to stand and have a short walk the day after your surgery. You’ll be encouraged to walk a little and often to begin with—this reduces the risk of complications such as blood clots. You’ll also be able to sit in a high chair with arms and use the toilet with a high toilet seat placed over it to raise it up. Don’t try to get out of bed or a chair without support from a staff member until you’re stable on your feet—the last thing you need when you’re recovering from joint replacement surgery is to have a fall!

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. 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.

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