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Physical Therapy after Joint Replacement Surgery

Physical Therapy after Joint Replacement Surgery

The recipe for a successful return to normal activities

By Nancy Maes

When extensive pain makes knee or hip replacement a necessity, it sometimes is beneficial to go through a presurgical round of physical therapy with a trained physical therapist.

“If a patient lacks strength or range of motion before surgery, it can be beneficial for the patient to attend therapy beforehand to ensure a quicker recovery,” says Melissa Hayman, a physical therapist in the Lincoln Park location of Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers.

Following surgery, patients are back in therapy at a rehabilitation center or at home with visits from a physical therapist. Hayman will start seeing them as outpatients two to four weeks after their surgery. Therapy sessions can last from eight to 12 weeks for patients who have had knee replacements without minimally invasive surgery, and one to two months for hip replacements. Treatment for both surgeries includes exercises to regain flexibility, strength, function and balance.

Patients might ride a stationary bicycle, do leg raises and squats and walk up and down stairs. Hands-on techniques used by the physical therapist are also needed to help patients regain full mobility and flexibility in the joint. These include stretching, techniques to break up scar tissue, joint mobilization (passive movement of the joint by the physical therapist) and massage.

“Physical therapy can be painful sometimes.” Hayman says. “We encourage patients to ice frequently to reduce the swelling and pain, and we can also use electrical stimulation to provide relaxation and inhibit pain after the exercises.”

According to Hayman, small adhesive electrodes are attached to the skin near the joint, and waves of electricity pass through them that provide relaxation and inhibit the pain signals from traveling along the pathways to the brain. She adds, “People can get frustrated if they are not improving as fast as they would like; we [often] remind them how much progress they have made in returning to their normal activities and reaching their goals.”

While the road to recovery may seem long, the reward is well worth the work.

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