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The Three Key Factors to Joint Replacement Surgery Success

Laurie Dart, RN
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Laurie Dart, RN
Keys to elective joint-replacement surgery success

As we age, so do our joints. If you are 70 years or older, odds are that you know someone who has had a knee, hip or shoulder replacement – or is at least preparing for that in the near future.

Did you know that the surgery’s effectiveness and the rate at which you recover from it can be dramatically impacted by how you prepare for it? If you are having chronic pain in your hip, knee or shoulder, it is important to have it evaluated right away. Receiving insurance approval for surgery is not a short process. Too often, I see these surgeries taking place on an emergency basis because a fall has occurred. Once you have received approval, there are three critical factors to consider – diet, exercise and attitude.

Diet and Exercise Matter
  • Protein = healing for the post-operative patient. Eating well before and after is critical to recovery. Prior to surgery, it is important to be vigilant about following your surgeon’s – and regular physicians’ – dietary advice. A person can be 50 pounds overweight and still be malnourished in terms of nutrients and protein stores. A person weighing 150 pounds needs 68 grams of protein daily. Prior to surgery, you will undergo a full blood panel and other tests. If you have low protein stores, you will have plenty of time to build those up. A week or two of eating protein-rich foods will replenish those.
  • For people with Type II diabetes, making sure your blood sugar is at good levels is particularly important because high blood sugar impedes healing – and the stress of surgery naturally elevates those levels.
  • People who are facing elective surgery are also facing pain. But exercising is one of the most important aspects of pre-surgical self-care you can do. Sitting for long stretches increases joint stiffness. Even if it’s just a few weeks before surgery, exercise will strengthen muscles and increase stamina and endurance. Talk to your doctors before beginning any new exercises on your own.
Plan Ahead to Reduce Stress

The most successful elective surgery recoveries I have seen began with careful planning by the patient. Reduce your mental stress by making sure your house and affairs are in order prior to surgery. If you have hypertension, this is particularly important, since stress raises blood pressure levels. Make sure you are working with your doctor to monitor blood pressure and keep it in order. I have witnessed surgeries being canceled in the pre-operative phase due to elevated blood pressure.

  • Make a list of the tasks that you do on a daily basis that will need to be taken care of by someone else – both while you are in surgery and during the post-operative recovery period.
  • Do you have a pet? Is your spouse in a frail state that requires monitoring and assistance? Make sure you have someone you trust taking care of those things.The last thing you want to do is be in the hospital worrying about whether things are in good shape at home.
  • Pack your bag ahead of time and double check to make sure you’re not forgetting items. Include some books or magazines you want to read.
  • Be prepared for the challenges you will face when you return home. Have some meals prepared ahead of time and frozen. Talk to your surgeon about your home’s layout prior to surgery, as well as to your post-operative care team. Is it multi-level? Is your shower in a bathtub? Have grab bars or other assistive devices ready. Have a plan for how you will get around.
  • If an adult child volunteers to help, have them speak to your surgeon about the length of time and types of help that will be required – particularly if there are complications. Make sure you are both comfortable with that.
  • I always recommend setting up some visits from a home care agency following surgery. Do this before your surgery date. They can provide transportation to follow-up medical appointments and help with bathing, cleaning the house or running errands. You can always cancel if you find you don’t need them.
It’s All in the Attitude

Superstar patients have one thing in common: they come prepared. They have a positive attitude about the surgery and its benefits, they have a plan in place for afterward, and they are ready to do the hard work that will come with recovering successfully. Rehabilitation isn’t easy and there will be bumps in the road. Some days, the pain will be worse than others. Sometimes blood pressure elevates. The most successful patients take setbacks in stride and remind themselves that if they keep working hard it will get better. 

Submitted by

Laurie Dart, R.N., is the former Resident Care Manager at Springhill.

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Comments for this post

catherine scott

Excellent and helpful article on successful joint replacement surgery. Amazing what exercise and diet can do with excellent medical care of course!


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