Preparing for your hospital stay

It’s important to start preparing for your total joint replacement several weeks before the actual surgery date. You should expect to put aside about six weeks for recovery, so get organised, schedule appointments and take care of as much business as possible before surgery.  To prepare for surgery, check our 20 pre-surgery tips to make sure you’re ready.

20 tips to help you prepare for surgery

A few weeks before your total knee replacement surgery, make sure you tick off the following checklist:

1. Visit a pre-admission clinic.  If your hospital runs a clinic before surgery, this can help you enormously. You will meet hospital staff, including nurses and physiotherapists, and discuss more details about what to expect on the day of your surgery, during your hospital stay and during your rehabilitation. 

2. Have routine laboratory tests as directed by your surgeon and/or the hospital staff. Blood tests, urine tests, an ECG (electro-cardiogram) to monitor your heart function, and a chest X-ray may be ordered to confirm that you’re fit for surgery.

3. Begin exercising, as directed by your orthopaedic surgeon. If you’re in the best possible overall health, you increase your chances of having the best surgical outcome. Ask your surgeon and/or physiotherapist about starting an exercise program before surgery. Increase your upper body strength, as you’ll need to use a walker or crutches immediately after joint replacement. Strengthening your lower body is also important because increasing leg strength before surgery can help reduce recovery time.

4. Have a general check-up. Visit your GP to assess your overall health, and check for any medical conditions that could compromise your surgery or recovery. Often your surgeon will organise this with a physician who will help care for you during your hospital stay. 

5. Have a dental examination. Although infections after joint replacement are not common, an infection can occur if bacteria enter the bloodstream. So, complete any dental procedures such as extractions and periodontal work before your joint replacement surgery.

6. Ask about medications. Your orthopaedic surgeon will advise you which over-the-counter and prescription medicines should not be taken before surgery. Blood thinners in particular may need to be stopped or replaced one to two weeks before surgery. Ask your surgeon about these.

7. Stop smoking. This is a good idea at any time, but especially before major surgery as it reduces the risk of post-operative lung problems and improves healing.

8. Lose weight if recommended by your doctor. If you are overweight, losing weight will help reduce stress on your new joint, which can be a contributing factor to possible wear of the new joint.

9. Arrange for help – If possible, plan for someone to be with you, especially for the first week or two at home. However if no-one is available, many patients go home alone after joint replacement.  A post-op inpatient rehabilitation facility may also be recommended by your hospital.

10. Consider home help services as they may be useful when you are first at home. Patients can benefit from help for the first few weeks with bathing, cooking and regaining independence.  Discuss this with an occupational therapist, social worker or discharge planner at the hospital.

11. Plan what you will take to hospital – Your hospital will advise you but they may suggest:

  • Comfortable day clothes such as a tracksuit / exercise clothes
  • Comfortable rubber soled enclosed shoes or slippers
  • Toiletries
  • Nightwear
  • Long handled pick up stick, aids or elbow crutches  ( if you already have them )

12. Be conscious of infection – If you have any sign of any kind of infection anywhere in your body ( for example, a high temperature or fever; areas of skin that are red, swollen, painful or hot; cough or sore throat ), contact your hospital or surgeon as this may affect your planned surgery.

13. Prepare your skin – It is very important that you do not have any signs of scratches, cuts or infection in your skin.  If these are present, contact your orthopaedic surgeon for information on how to resolve this before surgery. Take special care to avoid gardening, major cleanups, cutting nails or any activity that runs the risk of damaging your skin in the week prior to your surgery.

14. Eat well-balanced meals – Be particularly health conscious during the weeks and months leading up to surgery, to promote better healing. 

15. Prioritise physiotherapy – Your physiotherapy and post-op exercise regimen are critical for a successful outcome. Think of each exercise as a stepping-stone toward improved strength, range of motion and function. 

16. Adapt your environment – Get ready before you go to the hospital by having suitable seating at home for both lounge and dining areas, at an appropriate height and armrests. All necessary aids will be made available to you in hospital and available for loan or hire during the first weeks after surgery.

If you live alone:

  • Prepare your house before surgery so it’s ready for your return,
  • Put clean sheets on the bed,
  • Prepare meals and freeze them in single serving containers,
  • Minimise fall and trip hazards by picking up loose rugs,mats, and cables.
  • Arrange to have someone collect your post and take care of pets if necessary,
  • Make sure there is space to walk between rooms on crutches, without obstacles getting in your way.
  • Ensure toiletries, towels, toilet paper and frequently worn clothes (such as socks and underwear ) can be reached without bending or stretching too far
  • Consider using ‘soap on a rope’ to prevent you dropping soap in the shower ( or use a stocking with soap in the toe end and tying the other end to a rail or tap ).
  • Place slip resistant mats inside and outside your shower or bath.

17. Practice on crutches – Even if you have spent time on crutches before, reacquaint yourself with them so the awkwardness won’t be overwhelming after surgery. 

18. Actively participate – Commit yourself to assume responsibility for your own care – follow precautions and do your exercises. The recovery process should never be seen as ‘time lost’; it is the time you need to rest and recuperate. 

19.Talk with past patients – Hearing about their experiences can help you gain perspective and ease your mind. 

20. Have a positive attitude and visualise getting your life back  – Be encouraged and focus on the high rate of success for total joint procedures. The pain and deterioration of your joint has severely diminished your quality of life, so just think about how much things can improve after surgery and how your life will improve.

Next Steps

Contact your GP or health professional to discuss your options