A joint replacement procedure is a major undertaking that will require months of rehabilitation, but for the vast majority of people suffering from hip, knee or shoulder pain, the operation is worth it in the long run. However, having great long-term outcomes after joint replacement surgery doesn’t happen by accident. You’ll have to be deliberate with your rehabilitation program if you want to make the strongest recovery possible, and oftentimes that involves a healthy dose of physical therapy. Below, we explain how physical therapy can help improve long-term physical function after a joint replacement procedure.
Joint Replacement And Physical Therapy
Joint replacement surgery can replace a degenerative joint with artificial equipment that mimics the functions of a healthy joint, but this process doesn’t just happen on its own. Your surgeon will handle the technical aspect of removing the damaged joint and replacing it with a new artificial joint, but the rest of the work will be up to you. You’re going to need to help your body get used to this new equipment and strengthen all of the areas that have been affected by the surgical procedure. The best way to do that and achieve great long-term outcomes is with physical therapy. Here’s a look at what a physical therapist will help reestablish in your new joint.
- Strength – Restoring strength in the artificial joint and the surrounding tissues is very important after a joint replacement procedure. Ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues will need to be cut and reattached to the new joint, and this trauma will weaken the area in the short-term. With the help of some targeted physical therapy exercises, you can start to restore some strength and stability in these tissues so that your new hip or knee can take on more activity. This strength restoration will make it easier for you to get back to all the physical activities you loved doing before joint discomfort made the action too painful. The body’s natural healing process can only do so much, and it is up to the patient and their care team to help them restore more functional strength in their joint during their recovery.
- Range Of Motion – Range of motion is another critical skill that will need to be reestablished following a joint replacement procedure. As we mentioned above, a number of soft tissues that allow you to comfortably move the joint in different directions are cut or damaged during the operation, and you need to help these tissues relearn how to move when attached to the new artificial joint. Reestablishing long-term range of motion needs to occur gradually over time, as overdoing it can lead to pain and tissue tearing. Your physical therapist can help you slowly expand flexibility and range of motion in your new joint so that normal movement patterns are comfortable.
- Balance – Staying upright is incredibly important for patients that have undergone a hip or knee replacement, as a fall can cause issues for their new joint or their body as a whole. Your balance and coordination will be affected in the short-term as your body attempts to get used to the new joint and how to safely disperse stress through the area. A physical therapist can teach you some simple balance and coordination exercises that can improve the stability of your new joint, ensuring that you remain upright now and in the future.
- The Absence Of Pain – Nobody wants to undergo a joint replacement procedure only to be left with mild to moderate discomfort in the area months after the operation. These first few months are incredibly important at not only establishing strength, stability and flexibility in your new joint, but also to help your new joint get used to the movements and actions you perform most. Pain can linger if you are overly protective of your new joint and never help it truly reestablish functional motion. Your physical therapy team can design a PT routine that puts your new joint to the test based on the activities and actions you perform the most, which will help it be able to handle what you put it through and decrease the likelihood that these actions will lead to pain or discomfort. If you don’t work hard during your physical therapy program, don’t be surprised if pain or discomfort lingers in your new joint in the long-term.
Long-term functional gains won’t come easy after joint replacement surgery, but trust us when we say that the work you put in during physical therapy will be worth it. For more information on how we can help you achieve these long-term functional improvements, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.