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Physical Therapy

Hip, Knee, and Shoulder Replacement Recovery: What To Expect

February 10th, 2022 | 5 min. read

Hip, Knee, and Shoulder Replacement Recovery: What To Expect
Kayla Brook

Kayla Brook

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Dry Needling Certified // Orthopedic Certified Specialist // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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A joint replacement surgery is a major procedure, and your body needs ample time after to recover. After surgery, your next step is to ensure you are doing the best things for your body so that you can return to the activities you love as soon as possible. But how do you know you are doing the right things? What can you do to help yourself recover in a timely manner? 


At EW Motion Therapy, we see many joint replacement surgery rehab clients, and we work with each one to ensure their bodies can recuperate after their procedures and they can return to their favorite activities. Even if you do not choose to rehab with us, we still want to provide a realistic recovery timeline and some tips on how to help yourself heal faster. 


This article will discuss recovery timelines, factors that can affect your recovery time, and how physical therapy can help you recover. With this information, you can rest after your surgery knowing that you will be back to doing your favorite activities as soon as possible.



How long will my recovery take? 

Let's discuss a realistic timeline for the three major joint surgeries: hip, knee, and shoulder. Long-term, hip and knee replacement surgeries have similar recovery times. Recovery from hip surgery is sometimes a little shorter, but generally, barring any complications, you will be back to daily functional activity in about three months. Within six months to a year after your surgery, your joint should be at optimal function and ready to perform in any of your favorite activities. 


For shoulder replacement surgery, post-operative protocols may vary, but you will most likely be in a sling for the first six weeks, except when you are doing rehab exercises with your physical therapist. With shoulder replacements, due to the complexity of the procedure, the time required to see real improvement and restored function can vary more than it does with hip and knee replacements. 


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What affects my recovery time? 

There are many factors that can affect how long it takes you to recover from your joint surgery. Building strength in the muscles around the joint before your surgery can be incredibly beneficial for recovery, because the stronger those muscles are going in, the quicker your joint will get back to normal. Your overall health, well-being, and activity level can also play a part, as well as the activities you need to accomplish during your day. If you work a desk job, for example, you should be clear to go back to work in 4-6 weeks after your surgery. However, if you work on a construction site or other physically demanding jobs, you might not be able to go back to work until your joint is once again fully functional. 


Any complications that arise after your procedure can have an effect on your recovery time. Some primary examples include infection, heavy scar tissue, or an increased inflammation response. Your recovery time can also depend on how diligent you are with your home exercises from your doctor or your therapist. With any joint replacement, rebuilding range of motion can be a slow and painful process, but if you stick with it and continue to do your exercises as you are instructed, you are much more likely to have the best possible outcome. 


How would physical therapy help me? 

In order to successfully complete your rehab, your doctor will most likely send you to a physical therapist. For any major joint replacement surgery, a therapist’s goal is a full return to daily function. Their treatment will also help decrease inflammation, decrease pain, and improve blood flow to the surgery site in order to help prevent blood clots. 


For hip rehab, your therapist will get the blood flowing around the hip by activating muscles around the joint and incorporating other activities to increase range of motion. This will help the joint to not stiffen during recovery. They will also focus on safe transfers, such as getting up out of bed and walking around your home. You should hopefully be off of a walker around 3-6 weeks after surgery, and once you do not need an assistive device, your therapist will work on increasing your mobility and building strength. 


Most of knee surgery rehab focuses on regaining range of motion in the joint. Your therapist will first target gaining full extension in your knee, which will straighten your leg. There is a goal of about 90 degrees of flexion (bending your knee) the first week after surgery. They will then move into gentle strengthening exercises while standing with weight bearing as tolerated, or as recommended by protocol. This can include weight shifts and calf raises, and continuing to progress motion as you get stronger.


Your time in rehab for shoulder surgery ultimately depends on the complexity of the procedure and the protocol recommended. Your therapist will typically start with passive activities, where they move the joint around for you, in order to regain mobility without overstressing the tissues involved. This can begin as soon as the first day post-op. They will then focus on increasing range of motion and building strength progressively so that you can get back to your daily life activities. 


What should I do before surgery? 

Now you know more about what your recovery might look like after a major joint replacement procedure. Recovery can be a long and hard road, but most patients agree that they feel so much better after the procedure than they did before. Increasing activity and building strength in the muscles surrounding the joint before surgery is incredibly important, and is a determining factor in how long your recovery will take. If you can do that well, and you follow your plan for recovery, your chances for achieving your goals are greatly improved. 


We make sure our prehab and rehab clients at EW Motion Therapy understand how important it is to follow their exercise plan, so they can return to the activities they love as soon as possible. Our skilled therapists are able to tailor their treatment plans to your particular needs. If you are interested in prehab or rehab with us, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps. 


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