Joint Replacement Recovery: The First Week

written by Cory Calendine, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon, Hip and Knee Specialist

“Knowing is half the battle.” – G.I. Joe cartoon, circa 1980

Nowadays, you will likely be home within a day or two of having a hip replacement or knee replacement. Essential requirements before you leave the facility are: pain reasonably controlled, tolerating liquids, walking with the use of a walker…but now what? The goal is to get you back to the life you want as soon as possible, but what should you expect the first week after joint replacement? While each patient's recovery journey is unique, this article covers a few tips for making it through that first week of healing. Knowing what to expect can be reassuring and extremely valuable.

For most patients, the majority of the first week of recovery is spent at home.

Your First Week of Joint Replacement Recovery

Pain After Joint Surgery

(Some) Pain - You have had a major procedure, and with it will come some pain/discomfort. This should be easily manageable. At the time of joint replacement surgery, we routinely use nerve blocks that numb the pain for a while. Surprising to many, the day of surgery is quite comfortable…but you may experience more pain  a day or two later (when the blocks have worn-off). Never fear - there are several reliable ways to help control your postsurgical joint pain.

Preparation and managing expectations can make a big difference following joint replacement surgery - especially the first week of joint recovery.
  • EXERCISE. Weight-bearing on your leg and gentle range-of-motion (ROM) exercises are by far the most important way to control hip and knee pain following surgery. It is tempting to stay in bed when experiencing pain, but a simple walk to the next room may help relieve pain much more effectively than you might think. Trying to mobilize every couple of hours when you're awake is initially a reasonable goal. Always be safe, get assistance when needed and use caution when mobilizing with discomfort. Even while sitting, breathing exercises will help keep your lungs clear and prevent complications.
  • ICE. Swelling around the hip or knee surgery site tends to increase pain and discomfort. A bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel can help with pain - up to 15 minutes out of every hour. Some newer skin cooling devices can be used even more frequently and for a longer period of time to decrease swelling and surgical site pain.
OTC Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medications are a part of early pain control.
  • MEDICATIONS. A customized plan for postoperative pain control individualized for each patient is essential. We recommend around-the-clock Tylenol and anti-inflammatory medication for most patients to 'stay ahead' of the pain. Weak narcotic medications (like Tramadol) and stronger pain medications (like oxycodone) should be available – but used sparing due to side effects.
RELATED VIDEO: How Painful is Joint Replacement Surgery? (Cory Calendine, MD)

Appetite/Nutrition After Joint Surgery

Decreased Appetite. We want to encourage you to drink enough water and take in enough protein to optimize healing following joint surgery. Most hip and knee replacement patients report a decreased appetite for several days following surgery. This is likely due to medications and the physiological stress the body is going through recovering from a major surgery. It is not uncommon to lose a few pounds after surgery…the challenging part is keeping it off. Make every effort to maintain a nutritious diet during your hip or knee replacement recovery.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rx for Stress: Exercise, Nutrition and Friendships (Blog Article)
Establishing healthy sleep habits is very important during joint replacement recovery.

Getting Sleep After Joint Replacement Surgery

Disrupted Sleep. You might be tired during the day and then have difficulty sleeping at night. It is okay to sneak the occasional daytime rest, but soon our goal will be to stay awake so that you are more fatigued and tired at night. To help fall asleep after joint replacement surgery, many patients use the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) – which is safe and non-addicting sleep aid. It is definitely important to talk to your doctor before taking ANY additonal medication following surgery. One word of caution here, while we definitely want your pain controlled to allow you to rest - using narcotics medications for sleep leads will altered your sleep cycles (decreased REM or deep sleep) and increased fatigue.

Care Assistance After Joint Replacement

To Benefit From Some Help - Take It Easy. Independence is so important to many of us – and may even be the reason you sign-up for joint replacement surgery – but for the first week or so after joint replacement, having someone available to call for help with basic house responsibilities, grocery purchases and the like will be a blessing a great help to your joint replacement recovery. You will be encouraged and assisted in the weeks before your surgery to organize your home so it's easy to move around and arrange for care assistance to help with daily activities and car rides.

Reassure yourself - you will likely be returning to normal activities soon.

THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP for the FIRST WEEK following JOINT REPLACEMENT is:

Be kind to yourself. You will have strong moments and weak moments. You will have impressive gains and perhaps occasional setbacks. Reassure yourself daily that you will be able to get back to most of your normal activities soon. You are not alone. We want to be in it with you – every step of the way. Starting long before surgery, we are focused on relieving your joint pain and improving your quality of life. Choosing to have a joint replacement is a major life decision. From pre-surgical planning to full recovery, our team at the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee is in this journey with you - every step of the way.

RELATED RESOURCES: The Ins and Outs of Joint Replacement Surgery (Patient Handbook by Williamson Medical Center)

If you or a family member have already been through joint replacement surgery and you have additional recovery tips please forward all comments and questions. If this information was helpful, please share and follow us on social media for regular joint replacement news and updates. Easily subscribe to this blog by entering your email below. No personal information is ever shared with other companies or parties.

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Cory Calendine, MD is an Orthopaedic Surgeon and founding partner of the Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee at Williamson County Hospital in Franklin, TN. Dr. Calendine is an expert in Joint Replacement, specializing in Hip and Knee Surgery. From diagnosis through treatment, the Orthopaedic Surgical experts at the Bone and Joint Institute use the latest techniques and technology to improve care for people with musculoskeletal problems. For more information, please contact our office or schedule your appointment today.  

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