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If you get a joint replaced – whether hip or knee – you might think your mobility woes will be history. The reality is, your new joint needs continued attention and care to function normally.
Today’s hip and knee replacement prosthetics use innovative plastics and metals that are more durable, dependable and longer lasting. But even with high-tech materials and new minimally invasive procedures that speed up recovery time and reduce the risk of infection, proper rehabilitation is still a critical part of a successful joint replacement – no matter what your age and mobility status.
Here are my answers to these frequently asked questions about the role of physical therapy after joint replacement:
Why is rehabilitation still a critical part of a successful joint replacement?
Getting up and moving soon after joint replacement surgery is key to a successful outcome. It also helps prevent life-threatening complications, such as blood clots. Both physical and occupational therapists will see you in the hospital after your surgery and begin a mobilization and exercise program before discharge. In fact, we aim to get our total joint replacement patients up and moving around the same day as their surgery.
What does rehabilitation and mobilization look like?
Once discharged, you’ll usually get two to three weeks of home physical therapy to ensure you can get around at home and meet range-of-motion and strength targets. Three weeks after surgery, you will likely begin outpatient treatment with weekly appointments. On average, joint replacement patients participate in five to seven physical therapy visits – far fewer than the average even two to three years ago. Most patients appreciate the time to learn more about their healing process and the support to ensure they are meeting projected goals.
What should you expect from rehab?
You will experience pain following surgery, especially for total knee replacements, but it will gradually decrease over time. A physical therapist will talk to you about your recovery, goals and past medical history while also assessing your range of motion, strength and gait. The goal is to develop a plan of care that makes sense with regard to your goals and challenges.
Every patient is unique and plans for physical therapy should be tailored to each individual’s specific needs and capabilities. While some patients may only need a couple of rehab visits, others may need more. The key is to complete the entire recommended course of treatment.
Patients who do not complete rehab may experience prolonged pain, stiffness and swelling of the joint. These deficits can also lead to a breakdown in other areas of the body, such as with the leg that wasn’t operated on or in the lower back, and lead to pain or orthopedic problems down the road. Through rehab, though, these issues are eliminated, and during outpatient physical therapy, your therapist will devise a plan of care that enables you to achieve your goals and targets in an acceptable time frame.
Laura Agemak, MPT, is a physical therapist specializing in restoring functional mobility to people with musculoskeletal and neurological impairments. She serves as the rehab supervisor at Henry Ford Rehabilitation – Allen Park.
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