Joint Replacement Surgery: How to prepare, and what to expect during recovery

June 28, 2022 | By: Raleigh Orthopaedic Team

You and your orthopedic surgeon have decided total joint replacement surgery is right for you – now what? While preparing for surgery may initially seem overwhelming, understanding what to expect before and after the procedure can improve your outcome and recovery time. In fact, you can prepare for your surgery well in advance of the actual procedure. We have listed ways to make your recovery easier, as well what to expect following a total joint surgery.

How to prepare before surgery

Before you go the hospital or ambulatory surgery center, be sure to complete the following steps to make life easier when you return home.

  • Create a first-floor sleeping space – Navigating stairs can be tough immediately after surgery. If you normally sleep upstairs in a multistory home, consider converting a space downstairs into a bedroom for a few weeks
  • Prepare a recovery area – Initially, your go-to chair should be a sturdy, stable one with arms to help you stand up. Place frequently used items such as phone, charger, tissues, glasses, remotes, reading materials, wastebasket, laptop, etc — within reaching distance
  • Make a food plan and prepare your kitchen space – purchase food that is easy to make and/or prepare meals in advance. Make sure plates, cups, utensils, etc are easy to reach
  • Prepare your bathroom – Install a handheld adjustable showerhead attachment for easier bathing, and mount grab bars in the bathtub or shower area and next to the toilet for support. Grab bars will continue to pay dividends long after you recover from surgery, helping to prevent falls for years to come. Soap on a rope and/or a shower sponge with a long handle can help you wash hard-to-reach areas without bending over, and a nonskid bathmat will keep the floor dry and help prevent slipping
  • Strategically place chairs in each room in case you need them to sit in or balance with
  • Remove and/or relocate loose rugs, carpet, and/or cords, as these could be a tripping hazard
  • Secure stairway handrails for when you are ready to navigate stairs
  • Clean and declutter your house – you will want to return home to a safe and clean environment
  • Pre-order medical/special equipment (sample items below)
  • Stock up on ice
  • Line up help in advance – arrange for someone to mow your lawn, bring in the mail, help with your pet(s), shop for groceries and help with other chores postsurgery
  • Pack a bag – depending on the type of surgery and your physician’s surgical plan, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital. In such cases, you will want a basic overnight bag with grooming/hygiene supplies, a change of clothes, and non-slip shoes, insurance card, photo identification, and any necessary medical equipment

What to expect during recovery

Rehabilitation begins immediately following surgery. Everyone’s case is unique, but here is an overview of what to expect during the first 12 weeks of recovery.

  • 1 – 2 days:
    • You will get out of bed and begin moving around with the assistance of a walker or crutches. The type of procedure you undergo will determine which aids you may use.
    • Be sure to follow your surgeon’s wound care instructions – swelling, bruising, aching, and fatigue are common side effects.
  • Weeks 1 – 3:
    • RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)
    • Medication regime – adhering to your prescribed medication will help ease pain and reduce inflammation following surgery.
    • Physical Therapy – you will spend time exercising your joint under the care of a physical therapist. Gentle movements will help tone and strengthen the muscles, and reduce swelling. Click here for more information about the importance of rehabilitation after a total joint replacement.
    • Home assistance – patients usually need support with self-care, activities of daily life, shopping, and driving for the six weeks following surgery. Management of these restrictions requires advance planning of activities of daily living throughout the period of recovery from total joint replacement or joint surgery.
  • Weeks 4 – 6: At this stage, you may see noticeable improvement in mobility and be able to get around with limited assistance. Remember, while you may be feeling better, your body is still healing. It is important to rest and avoid strain on the joint. Many patients with a desk job or remote job may be able to return to work during this time. If your job is physically demanding or requires travel, then it may take you more time to return to work.
  • Weeks 7 – 11: You will continue to see a physical therapist and work on rehabilitation exercises, focused on strength and range of motion.
  • Week 12: By week 12, the majority of patients are 90% recovered, and are able to return to normal, daily activities. You should speak with your doctor for clearance before operating a vehicle or participating in any sport or other high-impact exercise.


Special Equipment

There are many tools available to help you perform routine tasks after surgery, during the recovery process, including:

  • Long shoe horns – to put on your shoes
  • Grabber – to help you pick up or reach for items without bending over
  • Soap on a rope – to prevent bending to retrieve shower items
  • Bathtub benches and handrails – to improve bathroom safety and increase stability
  • Long-handled shower sponge or hand-held shower
  • Secured handrails on stairs and in showers
  • Walker, wheelchair, or crutches – depending on your procedure type




Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, serving the Triangle and surrounding regions of central North Carolina since 1919. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our Raleigh Orthopaedic Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.