Joint Replacement and The Healing Process
There can be no doubt that the process of replacing a damaged or diseased hip or knee joint with a prosthesis can be a life-changing experience. The procedure, known as arthroplasty, is widely regarded by orthopaedic surgeons as the most successful surgical intervention in the history of medicine. Patients who experience an injury or disease that affects the hip or knee are the most common subjects for joint replacement. However, similar procedures targetting the shoulder, elbow, and ankle are now undertaken more frequently.
The Evolution of Joint Replacements
The first successful attempt at knee arthroplasty occurred only in 1968, following almost a century of failed attempts. While the implantation procedure worked, the artificial joints were not tough enough to bear the patient’s weight for long. Today, new and improved materials, such as titanium alloys, ceramics, and polyethene have vastly extended the expected lifespan of prosthetic joints. Many patients now continue to enjoy their benefits for decades. In the United Kingdom alone, almost 94 000 knee joint replacements were performed during a 12-month period spanning 2018 and 2019. That figure is increasing yearly, as are the statistics for hip arthroplasty.
Healing After Surgery
Naturally, the success of these procedures depends heavily on the skills and experience of the orthopaedic surgeon. However, during the months following the surgery, the patient’s actions can be equally crucial to the long-term success of these procedures. While the outcome of arthroplasty can be life-changing, one should not expect to experience it overnight. As with any major surgery, there will be considerable post-operative pain. In addition, it will be necessary to minimise strain on the joint replacement by using a cane or a walking frame for a while.
Your prosthetic hip, knee, or shoulder joint requires healthy musculature to maintain stability and function effectively. The prolonged periods of reduced mobility due to pain and swelling before the surgery will have severely weakened the muscles in the affected region. Consequently, patients must commit to following a prescribed programme of gentle but consistent exercise to regain that lost strength. Typically, this will be supervised by a physiotherapist during the early stages. Later, the patient will assume responsibility for this crucial component of the healing process following a replacement. That said, rest is also essential for a speedy recovery. Thus, patients must learn to strike the right balance between the two.
Although pain management will be necessary during the early stages, patients should attempt to reduce their dependence on analgaesics as soon as possible. Painkillers can lure one into doing too much, increasing the risk of damage to the implanted components before they become fully attached to the supporting bones. During surgery, these are glued to the newly exposed bone surfaces. Alternatively, an attached stem is left to fuse with its internal structure. A joint replacement is particularly vulnerable at this stage, and a failure could necessitate revision surgery.
Despite such concerns, most of those with more sedentary jobs should be fit to return to work within six weeks of their surgery. However, those in more physically demanding occupations would be better advised to wait six months or so before their return. The orthopaedic unit at Pretoria’s Life Wilgers Hospital has gained international acclaim as a centre of excellence for arthroplasty. Please click here to learn more about Dr De Vos and his life-changing joint replacement procedures and contact us for more information.