Caring for Yourself at Home
Our goal is the same as yours: for you to go home as quickly as possible.
The average stay at the Joint Replacement Center is 2 days. By taking advantage of the Joint Replacement Center and actively participating in your accelerated therapy program, you’ll get better faster. You’ll have more confidence in using your new joint. And you’ll be ready to return to the active lifestyle you’ve been missing — until now.
But never forget: The work doesn’t stop once you go home. Keep moving with these next steps.
Care of Your Surgical Incision
- You and your Joint Coach should wash your hands before and after changing your dressing.
- Change your dressing according to your surgeon’s discharge instructions.
- You and your Joint Coach should keep a close watch on your incision. There will be some swelling initially, especially after physical therapy or exercise. There should not be any redness, hotness, odor, increased drainage, or opening of the incision.
- Follow your orthopedic surgeon’s instructions on caring for your incision, including how to take a shower. You may or may not be able to use an occlusive bandage. In no case can you submerge your incision (in a tub, hot tub, pool, lake, river, etc.) until it’s healed and your surgeon gives you clearance.
- If you have staples, they will be removed when directed by your physician.
- Hand washing goal: Wash hand for 15 seconds. This is the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song.
A strong rehabilitation program is critical to the success of your joint replacement. After you go home, continue your therapy at the Orthopedic and Neurosciences Center, located right on our campus, to help you recover and return to your everyday activities faster.
While outpatient therapy isn’t right for everyone, eligible patients should take advantage of it. Here’s why:
- You’ll work one-on-one with therapists already familiar with your stay at the Joint Replacement Center and who know your surgery and therapy plan inside and out. So, they can ‘jump right in’ and speed up your recovery.
- We’ll also monitor your incision to ensure proper healing is taking place.
- Your outpatient therapists will have a direct line to your surgeon and other team members should you need more follow-up care from them.
So, what will happen during outpatient therapy? Two to three times a week, you’ll visit our campus for:
- Progressive strength training
- Increased range of motion
- Reduced pain and stiffness
- Improved balance, movement and control
- Improved ability to change direction and move easier.
What happens if outpatient therapy isn’t right for you? Then we’ll recommend other options to continue your therapy and help you make the most of your new joint.
If you develop chest pain, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.
- Do not drive yourself or a loved one to the emergency room. You can be treated faster and more effectively when the appropriate hospital is notified ahead of time by emergency services. Quick treatment can limit the damage to your heart.
- Note the time of your first symptoms.
Get Medical Attention
Contact your surgeon or nurse navigator immediately if:
- Your pain increases
- The incision becomes red or warm
- There’s an opening in your incision
- There’s increased draining from the incision
- The drainage from the incision has an odor
- The area around the incision becomes increasingly swollen or red
- You’re unable to walk or put weight on your leg
- You have increased numbness or tingling of the leg
- Either calf becomes painful, swollen or tender
- You develop coughing, fever or shortness of breath.
Pain and Medication
You can expect to have some pain, and our goal is to make it manageable after you go home Here’s how:
- You’ll receive prescriptions for your pain medications, which you can fill at your pharmacy.
- Start by taking your pain medication as prescribed. As your pain lessens, decrease your dosage.
Remember to practice all of the other ways to manage pain:
- Activity – being active helps lessen pain
- Distraction – focus on something other than your pain
- Ice/Cold Therapy – will help keep swelling and pain under control
- Elevation – by raising your incision higher than your heart, you’ll improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
Many things can cause some degree of constipation, including pain medicine, iron supplements and a decrease in mobility caused by your surgery. This is normal, and your physician may prescribe a stool softener for you.
Some patients also may lose their appetite for several weeks after surgery. It’s common and will improve with time.
- Until your appetite improves, try to eat smaller, more frequent and well-balanced meals — vs. three large meals a day.
- Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids throughout the day to keep your body hydrated. Water is ideal.
Preventing Blood Clots at Home
Before you are discharged, your orthopedic nurse will review with you an individualized plan that your physician developed to help prevent blood clots.
Driving a Car
Once you can walk comfortably without a cane or any other support — and you’re no longer taking prescription pain medication — your doctor may clear you to start driving again. That might take a couple of weeks, but don’t rush it. If you don’t feel you’re ready, don’t get behind the wheel. Have your Joint Coach or other family member or friend drive you.
Getting enough rest will help you heal faster and feel better. You may need to use your pain medications one hour prior to bedtime to help you relax, control your pain and help you go to sleep easier. If you need pain medication before going to sleep, be sure to take it as directed by your physician. Do not take sleeping pills with your pain medication unless directed to do so by your physician.
Be sure to follow your home exercise plan regularly, so that you can regain your full range of motion and flexibility faster. Also, keep walking, because it will help your muscles get stronger.
Ice and Elevation
- Continue to use your ice pack; it helps to reduce swelling and pain.
- Use it for at least 10 to 15 minutes each time (or up to 20 minutes for pain control).
- Don’t place the ice pack directly on your skin. Always have fabric (such as a clean pillow case or towel) between the pad and your skin.
- For knee replacement patients, elevate your leg, but don’t place a pillow under your knee. Use a footrest when out of bed or place a pillow under your ankle when in bed.
Your Care-at-Home Checklist
- Don’t wear open-toed slippers or shoes without backs. They don’t provide adequate support and can lead to slips and falls.
- Rise slowly from either a sitting or lying-down position. This helps prevent feeling dizzy or light-headed as you get up.
- Change positions frequently to avoid stiffness.
- If you’re in the car, get out every one to two hours for a short walk, to lessen stiffness.
- Don’t lift heavy objects for the first few months — then only with your surgeon’s permission.
- Avoid sitting on sofas or chairs that are low, deep or very soft — especially if you have restrictions on bending your hip.
- Remember to remove all obstacles at home, including rugs. Add handrails in the shower, bathroom or other passageways, if needed.
- Keep all appointments with your doctors, therapists and other healthcare providers!
Keep You and Your New Joint Healthy
The work doesn’t stop after your therapy program ends! Living a healthy lifestyle speeds up your recovery — maintaining that lifestyle will help ensure your new joint works well for years to come. In fact, studies show that hip and knee replacements improve quality of life more than any other surgery.
It’s the proven way to maintain strong and healthy muscles around your new joint. If your surgeon and family doctor say it’s okay, try to exercise regularly: three to four times per week, 20-30 minutes at a time. Start with low-impact exercises, such as: taking one to three mile walks, using a treadmill or stationery bike, participating in an exercise program at a fitness center or an at-home program.
Watch Your Weight
Eating right and exercising regularly will help you control your weight, which will put the least amount of stress on your new joint. A dietitian can design a healthy weight loss meal plan just for you. Just let us know if you’d like us to refer you to a dietitian that’s close to your home.
Remember: Your health is your responsibility. You’ll want to keep eating a balanced and heart-healthy diet, manage your weight and more. For more information, please visit americanheart.org.
Continue to Stay Smoke-Free
If you quit smoking for your surgery, congratulations! By staying smoke-free, you are taking good care of yourself and practicing preventive medicine. Also, avoid smoky environments as secondhand smoke is not good for your health.
Good Health — a Commitment You Make to Yourself
Good health is a commitment you make to yourself and also to your family. It means living a healthy lifestyle and knowing your risk factors — blood pressure, blood glucose, blood cholesterol and body weight. Being screened for your health risk gives you enormous power to make changes in your lifestyle and improve your overall health.
If you have any other surgery or dental work in the future…Be sure to tell your doctor or dentist that you have had a joint replacement, so that you can be taking the appropriate antibiotic medication prior to the procedure.