Total joint replacement is increasingly popular in the US.
It is estimated over 700,000 knee replacements and over 300,000 hip replacements are performed each year.
If you are coping with severe arthritis pain that is hampering your active lifestyle, you may be considering such a procedure. If that’s the case, read on to learn how you can set yourself up for the best possible recovery after surgery.
1. Strength is NOT first
Arthritis makes strength training painful. Your body naturally seeks the least painful strategies it can to keep you moving. You know this if you’ve ever injured a knee or ankle. Your body favors, and subsequently limps, on the good leg instead of your bad leg while you walk. It’s your body trying to keep you mobile and curb your pain. (Think of how miserable you’d be if your body made you favor your bad leg).
Unfortunately, as the pain persists, some of the important stabilizing muscles become inhibited, and other muscles become dominant and over-used. The resulting imbalance can actually increase your pain and make you feel stiffer and weaker. Whereas a typical strength workout may wind up increasing your pain, a good medical exercise program focuses first on getting the stabilizing muscles to fire at the right time, improving your ability to move well. Many people find that once their stabilizers are back online and their body is moving more efficiently, their arthritis pain is not so bad. Some will even choose to delay joint replacement for a while.
2. Range of motion is important
One of the side-effects of arthritis is stiffening of the joints as well as contracture or shortening of some of the muscles close to the joint. The more range of motion (freedom of movement) you have around the affected joint prior to surgery, the more you will have after surgery. Stretching alone may not get you there, but stretching combined with the right gentle mobility exercises (Such as those for the ankle, in the case of a knee replacement, or for the upper back in the case of a shoulder replacement) will increase your chances of regaining the best range of motion of the affected joint after surgery.
3. Find a way to keep moving
Cardiovascular exercise can be a tall order when arthritis pain makes most modes of exercise uncomfortable. But, the benefits of even daily walking can mean faster recovery from surgery due to increased circulation and improved cardiovascular health. In that vein, try starting with only 5 minutes daily of your chosen exercise. Slowly increase your time as tolerated. Swimming, biking and rowing are also good examples of cardio exercise that will work for those with arthritis. Do your best to choose a modality that impacts your arthritis pain as little as possible.
4. After joint replacement, Physical Therapy is just the beginning!
Good physical therapy is important to reduce pain and swelling after surgery, and start to improve range of motion and basic strength. For many, however, discharge from physical therapy feels premature. You may still not trust your new joint and the surrounding muscles to keep you balanced and safe. You want to be stronger, improve your balance and know you can trust that new joint to perform when you need it most. Medical exercise keeps your momentum going after PT, and ensures your ability to continue to live a healthier, more active lifestyle with your new joint.
Thanks to total joint replacements, many people resume robust and active lifestyles in spite of once crippling arthritis pain.
A good prehab exercise program before surgery can dramatically shorten recovery time after surgery.
Further, continuing the good work you did in PT with a medical exercise program after surgery can help your body get back to healthy movement and activity sooner than physical therapy alone. With the right resources, life after joint replacement can be great!