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Osteoarthritis Health Center

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Joint Replacements for Osteoarthritis

What Happens After Joint Replacement Surgery?

One of the most important parts of a successful recovery is to get your new joint moving safely. Your surgeon will ask you to move your new joint shortly after your surgery. You will likely stand or even walk the day after your surgery, using a walker or cane.

Within a day after your surgery, you will begin physical therapy to increase the strength, flexibility, and mobility of the new joint. Most patients are required to stay in the hospital for three to five days post-surgery. Although your hospital stay will likely be brief, your total recovery can take two to three months to a year. In cases when the patient is elderly or has experienced complications, he or she might spend several weeks or even months in a rehabilitation facility.

What Are Possible Complications of Joint Replacement Surgery?

Although 90% of joint replacement surgeries are successful, like any surgery, there are risks of complications.

Blood Clots. One of the most common complications after surgery is a blood clot in a deep vein of the leg, often caused by the decreased mobility that accompanies major surgery. These are dangerous, because a piece of the clot can travel to the lungs. This impairs the lungs’ ability to get oxygen to the blood and can lead to permanent organ damage and death.

To prevent blood clots, doctors may order the use of blood thinning medications, compression stockings, compression boots, or gentle exercises to keep the blood in your legs moving. If you experience pain or swelling in your calf or thigh, your surgeon will likely perform tests to identify any blood clots. Blood clots can be treated with blood thinning medications, called anti-coagulants.

Infection. Though rare, the area surrounding your new joint can become infected. Antibiotics are effective in treating minor infections, although more serious infections can require further surgery.

Loosening and Dislocation. Over time, the new joint can loosen, which causes pain. Depending on the severity of the loosening, a new surgery might be necessary. Dislocation occurs when the ball of the joint becomes separated from the socket of the joint. Dislocation can be corrected with a brace or surgery.

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