What to expect after you fully recover

Regaining your mobility after surgery

Most people who have joint replacement surgery experience a dramatic reduction in joint pain and a significant improvement in their ability to enjoy normal everyday life.

However, it’s important to remember replacement surgery doesn’t mean you can suddenly do more than you could before your problems developed. Your orthopaedic surgeon will recommend how much activity to attempt safely once you have fully recovered from joint replacement surgery.

Your physiotherapist will also work with you to help keep your new joint healthy for as long as possible. It is important to maintain a healthy weight.  It also may mean adjusting your activities to avoid putting too much strain on your joint. Depending on your job, you may also need to find ways to avoid the heavy demands of lifting, crawling and climbing.

Your physiotherapist may suggest avoiding certain activities altogether, including some athletics that may place excessive stress your new joint – including sports that require running, jumping, quick stopping or starting. However, they will often encourage you to do lower impact exercises, such as cycling, swimming, golfing, bowling and level walking.

The success of your joint replacement operation will depend on how well you follow your orthopaedic surgeon and physiotherapist’s instructions.   Recovery varies greatly based on an individual’s situation but most patients resume normal activities within 12 weeks following surgery.

For more information on what life will be like after recovery, ask your surgeon for a login to Strykercare Patient Resources.  You can read about:

  • What to expect after recovery
  • Types of activities you can get back to enjoying
  • Prolonging the life of your implant
  • Your questions answered
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Prolonging the life of your new joint

Prolonging the life of your new joint

Joint replacement has become a commonplace surgical procedure and enables thousands of people each year in Australia to get back to the activities they enjoy. However it is important to remember that activities that stress the implant can compromise the life span of the joint. After joint replacement, you shouldn’t engage in physical activities that:

  • Cause pain, including pain felt later
  • Start or stop suddenly, as with running or jumping.
  • Take the joint to the extremes of its range of motion

Be realistic about what you can do after a joint replacement. Artificial joints do have limitations:

  • They are prone to excessive joint ‘loading’, for example through being overweight, or by injury through strenuous activities like running.
  • The artificial joint will not restore function to the same level as normal, healthy bone.
  • The artificial joint’s lifespan is limited, and will not last as long as normal, healthy bone.
  • In some cases, such as injury or overloading, you may need additional surgery to reposition, revise or replace the artificial joint. 
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What can I expect to be able to do after I recover?

What can I expect to be able to do after I recover?

Total joint replacements give patients a better quality of life, and most people are keen to return to normality as soon as possible. Follow the advice you received when you were discharged, and  increase your level of activity gradually. When six weeks or so have passed since you left hospital, you should be able to resume most of your normal activities.

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Work

Work

Most people are ready to return to office-based or more sedentary jobs after six to eight weeks. People with more physically demanding jobs, such as farming, nursing or building work, usually need to wait for about three months before going back, although they may be able to take on lighter duties or more supervisory roles before then. You won’t be able to go back to a driving job for at least six weeks.

You can get back to almost any type of job after a hip replacement, but for some physically demanding jobs, such as construction work, certain types of carpentry, and occupations that involve repeated high climbing or lifting, you may need to consider delegating some tasks to others, or look into equipment or aids that will help protect your joint in the longer term. Discuss your job’s requirements with your doctor.

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Driving

Driving

Avoid driving until you feel it’s safe to – for you and other road users.

Some people feel confident to drive after a few weeks, but your surgeon may recommend at least six weeks’ recovery from your joint replacement before you attempt it. Check with your doctor first.

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Flying

Flying

You should avoid air travel for the first six weeks after surgery, as it heightens your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) – clots on the legs and lungs. When you do start flying, take the post-operative precautions your airline recommends.Wearing your stockings will help reduce/minimise the risk of swelling and thrombosis. 

Joint replacement implants may activate metal detection devices such as those used at airport security checkpoints. With this in mind, it’s useful to carry a patient ID Card or a certificate from your doctor when you fly.

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Walking

Walking

Start walking more, as soon as it is comfortable to. You can decide when you’re comfortable to stop using crutches or your stick.  You may still require some support for longer distances or over rough ground.

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Sitting


Sitting

After six weeks or so, you should no longer need to use a high or raised chair, but it is always a good idea to avoid very low seats that can strain your hip and be more difficult to stand up from. Wherever possible, avoid crossing your legs.

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Kneeling

Kneeling

For hip replacement, this is fine any time after around six weeks. It’s best to go down to the kneeling position on the recently operated leg, taking your weight forward through the other leg. To come up from the kneeling position, take your non-operated leg forward, taking the weight through this leg as you push up into a standing position. If you have had both hips operated on, hold a support and take the weight through the leg you feel is strongest. Refer to your doctor for specific advice.

For knee replacement, it is best to wait longer, usually three months, but refer to your doctor for their specific advice.

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Sexual intercourse

Sexual intercourse

You can resume sexual intercourse as soon as you feel physically and mentally ready, taking care to protect your new joint and avoiding sexual positions that cause you pain. Many people resume sexual activity between six to eight weeks after surgery, by which time the surgical incision should have healed, and the muscles and ligaments are healing properly. Your surgeon may recommend positions that involve lying on your side (of the non-operated leg) or on your back.

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Gardening

Gardening

You can begin lighter activities, especially working at waist height as soon as it’s comfortable to. Wait at least six weeks before kneeling or bending, and 12 weeks for heavier work, such as digging. A garden kneeling stool is often helpful, as this helps you avoid squatting, which is not good for your replacement joint.

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Dancing

Dancing

You can start dancing as soon as you feel comfortable and safe to. Just start slowly and avoid excessive twisting and bending.

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Gym/aerobics

Gym/aerobics

You can start using a treadmill for walking, exercise bike and light weights from six weeks onwards.

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Swimming

Swimming

You can swim as soon as your incision wound is fully healed and your muscles are working well, which is usually after about six weeks. Swim using any stroke you wish.

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Golf

Golf

Many golfers have had a hip or knee replacement, and you can get back on the putting green from six weeks onwards, but check with your surgeon when you’d be ready for a full game of golf, which may be around three months after your operation. If you are right-handed and have a right hip or knee replacement you may be allowed to play earlier with care (and vice versa for left-handers).

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Tennis/badminton/cricket

Tennis/badminton/cricket

If you are keen to return to this sport, you should discuss it with your surgeon. Your doctor will most likely recommend waiting at least three months before playing these sports again.

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Squash

Squash

Squash is not always recommended after joint replacement surgery, as repeated jarring of the joint can lead to excessive wear and loosening. If you are keen to return to this sport, you should discuss it with your surgeon.

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Running

Running

High impact sports such as distance running, and any activities that involve jumping should be avoided as they place excessive stress on the new implants.  However if you are keen to return to this sport, you should discuss it with your surgeon.

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Contact sports, including rugby, football and contact martial arts

Contact sports, including rugby, football and contact martial arts

We do not recommend subjecting an artificial joint to the risks inherent in contact sports. However if you are keen to return to a contact sport, you should discuss your individual circumstances with your surgeon.

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Skiing

Skiing

A fall can risk a dislocation or fracture, and the harder the slope, the greater the risk. It is not advised taking up skiing for the first time after a joint replacement. However if you are already a competent skier, and would like to resume, discuss this with your surgeon.

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Windsurfing/water-skiing

Windsurfing/water-skiing

Like skiing, these are not sports you should take up after a joint replacement! If you are already competent and anxious to get back to these sports, be sensible. Water sports on a board or mono-ski place great strain on your joints. Always wear a life jacket, and never go out alone. A fall can result in dislocation or fracture. Discuss resuming this sport with your surgeon.

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Sailing

Sailing

On large boats, it’s fine to get back on board as soon as you can move about freely and comfortably – usually two to three months after your operation. In smaller craft, be careful to avoid extremes of bending or twisting, and follow the usual rules to avoid risking a dislocation. 

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Next Steps

Contact your GP or health professional to discuss your options