For patients who are about to undergo total joint replacement surgery, it’s important to know what to expect. Here are 10 of the most frequently-asked questions many patients have about total joint replacement surgery, so that you’re best prepared for the procedure in advance:
- Are there any tests I need to take before the surgery?
Before your total joint replacement surgery, you will be required to have routine blood work and a physical exam, which will be completed by your surgeon. Patients over the age of 50, or those who have a history of cardiac respiratory problems, must also have an EKG and a chest X-ray. Most of these tests can be done at the hospital where your surgery will take place.
- How early should I arrive at the hospital for my surgery?
Patients should arrive at least two hours before the scheduled time of their surgery. Before surgery, you will need to go through admissions, change into hospital clothing, and meet with the anesthesiologist and nursing staff, who will assist with your surgery. This is also a good time to ask any questions you have about the surgery. Unless otherwise instructed, you should not eat or drink after midnight on the day of your surgery. Some patients may be allowed to take certain, pre-approved medications with a small amount of water, if necessary.
- Is there anything I need to bring to the hospital on the day of the surgery? Make sure to bring with you the following items:
- Personal toiletries (like your toothbrush) and shaving gear
- Comfortable and loose-fitting clothing
- Slippers with closed backs, or slip-on shoes
- A list of all medications your are currently taking, including the dosages
- Hospital paperwork that was requested in advance
- For patients who use a walker, ask someone to bring it when you are discharged, so that a physical therapist can review it for stability before you return home from the hospital
- Items you should not bring: televisions, large sums of cash or credit cards, or other valuables
- How long does total joint replacement surgery usually take?
Typically, surgery for total joint replacement can take anywhere from one to three hours. Following this, patients will spend an additional one to one-and-a-half hours in the recovery room.
“Everyone’s surgery is different,” said Mark Tuttle, MD, orthopedic surgeon with OrthoONE at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center. “This is why patients should talk to their surgeon before the surgery.”
- How painful is the operation? Will I feel any pain during the surgery? For most patients, they will only experience some discomfort in the days and weeks following the surgery.
“After years of living with joint pain, many patients find this a welcome relief,” Dr. Tuttle said. “One of the goals of total joint replacement surgery is to significantly reduce the joint pain that patients experience on a daily basis.”
- How long is the recovery process? When can I resume my normal activities? As with any surgery, the recovery process varies from patient to patient. However, it’s likely that you’ll be able to resume your normal activities after a few weeks of rehabilitation. Following the operation, many patients are able to climb up and down the stairs before leaving the hospital. Talk to your doctor about what activities you want to do post-surgery. In a few short weeks, you might be able to go swimming, hiking, biking, golfing and engage in other low-impact sports and activities.
- After surgery, when will I be able to resume sexual intercourse? Usually, patients are able to resume their normal sexual activities within four to six weeks after their total joint replacement surgery.
- Can I go home from the hospital by myself after the surgery? After you are discharged from the hospital, it is highly recommended that you have someone stay with you for the first 24 to 72 hours. If you are not able to arrange a full-time helper for these days, make sure you have someone who can come and check on you. Or, ask a friend or a neighbor to call you and check in on your progress. Your case manager can also arrange at-home care for you following the surgery.
- Can I drive after the surgery? Most physicians will have patients wait six weeks before driving. Some patients might be approved to drive sooner, if a doctor says that they are safe to drive. How soon you can drive after surgery usually depends on the type of joint replacement surgery you had and your overall physical condition post-operation.
- What questions should I ask my doctor about the surgery? Don’t hesitate to talk to your physician about any questions or concerns you have. Being prepared for your surgery can help you to feel calmer and less stressed before, during and after the operation.
“The success of joint replacement surgery depends on you,” Dr. Tuttle said. “Patients need to listen to their doctors and follow their instructions. We really want all patients to have a better quality of life with their new joint.”