Luckily, the “wearing out” of your knees and hips is not something all of us will experience. But for those who do suffer from severe arthritis in their joints, it can make what used to be even the simplest moves more difficult than expected. Over the course of time, the arthritis in the joint worsens. It can often result in debilitating pain that limits you from normal daily activities and erodes your quality of life.
The bad news is there’s no cure for arthritis, and treatments such as medication, bracing, physical therapy, injections, and arthroscopic procedures can only alleviate some of the symptoms.
The good news: help is out there, and it comes in the form of joint replacement.
When you are losing your quality of life due to joint pain, it’s time to consider replacement. The goal of joint replacement is to eliminate pain and restore function. Many patients reach a point in which they can no longer go for their daily walk, hike trails, or play tennis or golf. For others, it may be simple pleasures like playing with their grandchildren or working in the garden that become undoable. Defining quality of life is difficult as it varies from person to person. Each individual must take stock of what activities in their life are valued. If you can still do all the things you love, then maybe you are not ready for joint replacement. If not, it may be time to replace those worn out joints and restore your quality of life.
Joint replacement surgery removes all the arthritic surfaces of your joint and replaces it with metal, plastic or ceramic parts. It sounds more painful than it is. The pain felt after surgery is from the soft tissues around the joint that need time to heal, not the new parts themselves. Shortly after the procedure the arthritic pain is gone and any pain from the surgery will go away over time as healing progresses.
Keep in mind that not everyone heals at the same pace, so discomfort can linger from a few weeks to months. In either case, there should be progress moving from week to week. Physical therapy plays a critical role in this stage of recovery. If you do what your therapist tells you, then you’ll be just fine. Think of your therapist as your coach, and we have a wonderful team at Rehab Dynamics to coach you along.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to wait long post-surgery to resume physical activity. Some patients start a walking program just two to four weeks out. By three to six months you’ll likely be ready to return to most normal activities and begin to get your life back to how it was years earlier.
There are some activities we advise against. We do not encourage high impact exercise after joint replacement, so avoid running and jumping. Try doubles tennis, not singles tennis. Golfing, hiking, cycling, swimming and walking are all great activities as well. You set the limits, but we encourage being conservative in the beginning and then gradually increasing your activity level as you can tolerate it. In the long run, and as you return to full health, there are no restrictions to what you can do (and what you can accomplish).
I tell many patients the more active you are the better. In the end, the benefit of joint replacement surgery has a lot to do with how severe your arthritis is or how restricted your activities are before your surgery. Your artificial joint may not be perfect, but it is going to be a vast improvement over the chronic pain you’ve been living with for years.