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Health Matters 12/4: Physical Therapy Can Help Speed Recovery After Hip or Knee Replacement Surgery

By Sangita Verma, PT, DPT, MBA, GCS

After hip or knee replacement surgery, many patients are eager to return to the activities they love – from golfing and gardening to playing tennis or simply playing with the grandkids.

Physical therapy plays an important role in the recovery process.

With exercises designed to strengthen the muscles and other tissues around the joint, physical therapy can help manage pain and restore function and mobility so patients can get back on their feet faster.

Princeton Rehabilitation at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center offers outpatient physical therapy to help individuals recovering from hip or knee replacement return to their normal activities.

Hip, Knee Replacement Surgery Common

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 32.5 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage in the joint that protects your bones from rubbing against each other.

Though osteoarthritis can affect any joint in your body, it most commonly occurs in your knees and hips, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion.

In many cases, osteoarthritis can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes such as weight loss and increased physical activity.

However, when the pain keeps you from leading an active life, surgery to replace your hip or knee can provide a safe and effective remedy.

In simplest terms, joint replacement surgery involves removing the damaged parts of a joint and replacing them with a metal, plastic or a ceramic device called a prosthesis. The prosthesis is designed to replicate the movement of a normal, healthy joint.

Joint replacement surgery is common in the United States, with more than 1.2 million hip and knee replacement procedures performed annually, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

At Penn Medicine Princeton Health, hip and knee replacement procedures may be performed on an inpatient basis or as an outpatient procedure for appropriate candidates.

Physical Therapy Starts Within Hours

As the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes, regular exercise to restore strength and mobility to your joint is important for a full recovery after surgery.

Insurance typically requires surgeons to prescribe physical therapy after knee and hip replacement, and therapy typically begins within hours after the procedure.

Whether in an inpatient or outpatient setting, a physical therapist will teach you how to move safely following precautions, sit at the edge of the bed, stand, put some weight on the joint, and walk.

The physical therapist will also help you begin an exercise program to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles around the joint. You are normally able to go home once you are able to walk safely, navigate steps and complete your exercise program.

As part of your recovery, outpatient physical therapy will continue to focus on range of motion, strength, endurance and balance to help you achieve your highest functional level. Physical therapy can also help manage pain and decrease swelling with modalities and manual therapy techniques.

Physical therapy is aimed at:

• Improving range of motion. After surgery, swelling and pain may keep you from moving your joint as you desire. Physical therapy can help you work through this and improve range of motion.

• Strengthening muscles. Building strength in the muscles surrounding the joint can help decrease the need for assistive devices like a walker, crutches or cane.

• Restoring balance. As you continue to recover, agility exercises will help you restore balance so you can safely navigate things like icy sidewalks or uneven terrain. Agility exercises can also help you make the sudden stops and turns that many sports require.

• Returning normal function. Physical therapy exercises can help you return to the activities you were able to do before pain started to limit your motion. For some, that could mean returning to tennis or golf, for others it could mean restoring the ability to carry groceries up a set of stairs or taking a pain-free walk in the park.

It is important to note that some patients may need home care services for a brief period of time until they can safely attend an outpatient physical therapy program.

An Individualized Approach

Princeton Rehabilitation offers patients an individualized, goal-oriented treatment program that progresses based on your level of pain and tolerance to therapy. In-person physical therapy appointments are offered in Hamilton, Monroe, Plainsboro, Princeton and South Brunswick. For patients seeking care at the Monroe site, transportation is available.

Telemedicine appointments are also available. Telemedicine allows new and existing patients and physical therapists to connect remotely through a secure video application on a smartphone, desktop or laptop computer for one-on-one care.

For more information about Princeton Rehabilitation or to find a physical therapist with Princeton Rehabilitation, call 609-853-7840 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.

Sangita Verma, PT, DPT, MBA, GCS holds a doctorate degree in physical therapy, is a geriatric certified specialist, and is the director of Rehabilitation for Princeton Rehabilitation.

 

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