The Power Of Joint Replacement

A joint replacement is a surgical procedure that reduces pain and restores range of motion (ROM) to a joint. Due to injury or arthritis, joints can lose cartilage and become increasingly inflamed and painful, lowering the quality of life. Arthritis can usually lead to stiffness and, in severe cases, require a total joint replacement. The surgical procedure removes damaged cartilage and bone. A prosthetic joint made of metal, ceramic, or a combination of materials is then installed. Doctors perform over 1 million joint replacements yearly, commonly treating the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, and elbow, with high success rates. However, recovery and relief from stiffness are vital to the procedure’s long-term success.

3 Things to Know Before Your FESS surgery

Why recovery matters

Joint replacements have recently accelerated in accuracy, speed, and success rates. Minimally invasive surgery (MIS), for instance, ensures only tiny incisions are necessary to remove and replace the joint. Additionally, robotic arm-assisted surgery uses advanced technology and robotics for a faster, more accurate replacement. While these tools are exceptional, joint replacements are only as good as the recovery process. A complete recovery should combine stretches, exercises, and pain management to help the body acclimate to the new joint. The recovery protocol can take 3-6 months, based on the type of surgery performed. However, proper recovery from surgery can be the difference between simply functioning and thriving with the new joint.

Addressing stiffness

A common side effect of joint replacement surgery is stiffness. Even after the patient can return to participation in everyday activities, the joint will experience some form of stiffness. The incisions on the muscles and tissue cause scarring and inflammation, leading to stiffness. Additionally, a lack of movement during recovery limits the mobility and ROM of the joint. While some initial rest is recommended, a total lack of activity prohibits the body from adjusting to the new components. Addressing stiffness ensures a smooth transition to everyday life and reduces complications. Here are 4 activities to relieve stiffness and improve the function of the new joint.

1. Gentle ROM exercises

Reducing stiffness is sometimes as simple as ensuring the joint experiences a full range of motion. By slowly and then progressively moving the joint through its full ROM, joint replacement patients can reduce stiffness and improve flexibility. Stretching exercises are part of physical therapy (PT) during the initial recovery process. However, doctors recommend using these stretches well after the patient can return to normal activities. The type of stretches will depend on the affected joint, degree of stiffness, and fitness levels. Post-surgical exercises often consist of bending, extending, or circular movements. With consistency, stretching makes movement and other daily activities less painful.

2. Get in the water

Swimming and hydrotherapy can play a crucial role in reducing joint stiffness after surgery. The buoyancy of water reduces the impact on the joints. Movement in water also provides gentle resistance-based training, strengthening the surrounding muscles. Swimming and water aerobics require the user to go through a full range of motion while improving blood flow. Participating in hydrotherapy or weekly swimming strengthens the joint and relieves stiffness while improving overall joint health.

3. The power of yoga

Sometimes, stretching during PT is not enough to treat chronic stiffness. Incorporating a yoga routine after recovery can be a game-changer in relieving stiffness. Yoga poses have thousands of years of evidence in improving strength, ROM, and flexibility. There are often specific poses that target the affected joint. Regular practice also improves posture, increases mindfulness, and reduces stress. Working with a certified yoga instructor also increases adherence and motivation for the practice.

4. Gradual weight-bearing exercises

After surgery, the joint depends heavily on the surrounding muscles for support and movement. Weak surrounding muscles can lead to pain, limiting movement. A lack of activity will likely lead to stiffness. Additionally, muscle atrophy can develop, causing even more pain and stiffness. Strengthening the muscles with weight-bearing exercises can reduce friction, improve joint lubrication, and improve stiffness symptoms over time. Start with light weights, as directed by a therapist or certified personal trainer, then increase the weight gradually.

When all else fails

After several months of consistent activity, some people still experience stiff, painful joints. At this point, seeing an orthopedic surgeon again may be the best course of action. The surgeon can re-assess the joint and provide options to reduce stiffness. Some patients may develop arthrofibrosis or scar tissue around the joint. Aggressive PT or manipulation under anesthesia (MUA) can help with these issues. In severe cases, additional surgery to remove scar tissue can help, while some patients may need a different prosthetic joint.

Enjoy a new, flexible joint

For many patients, joint replacement has a high success rate and offers a new lease on life. The new joint allows pain-free movement if the patient adheres to the physical therapy regimen. There are cases where stiffness can occur, impacting recovery from surgery. This stiffness can improve with stretching, yoga, swimming, or weight-bearing exercises. Consistently treating the joint ensures improved mobility and reduced pain. Stiffness should be a thing of the past, both during and after recovery.

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