Why Physical Therapy is Critical Following a Joint Replacement Surgery
The intricacies of joint replacement surgery can vary greatly, depending on whether the replacement involved a knee, wrist, shoulder, ankle, or hip. Yet the post-surgical recovery period for all of these procedures is remarkably similar. The most important element? Working those new joints correctly, with the help of a physical therapist.
Before you even leave the hospital, you’re likely to be treated by a physical therapist. That’s because it’s crucial to the healing process to keep inflammation down. Your physical therapist will probably perform the basic RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) treatment on you, while also teaching you how to continue with bandaging and icing after you are home.
Additional swelling, and the resulting pain, can also be prevented by not over-exerting yourself following surgery. Through physical therapy, you’ll learn how to move strategically, so that you don’t re-injure yourself.
Ensuring Optimum Circulation
Proper blood flow brings healing compounds to all parts of your body. This delivery of oxygen and nutrients is crucial for healing, especially in the hours and days just after surgery. In addition, working various body parts while in bed — and later walking around as soon as possible — helps prevent blood clots from poor circulation.
Depending on your joint replacement procedure, your physical therapist will show you such manageable moves as ankle rotations, hip bends and buttocks contractions, which promote circulation and flexibility. Physical therapy while still in the hospital may also involve a continuous motion machine, which slowly and painlessly moves the recently-replaced joint.
Gaining New Strength
The muscles surrounding and supporting your new joint will have some “heavy lifting” to do in order to help it function. After about two weeks, physical therapy will shift to strengthening exercises.
These muscle-building moves will obviously vary depending on what kind of joint replacement surgery you’ve had. If you’re walking with a cane or walker after knee replacement, not only will your leg muscles need to work harder, but your physical therapist may also determine that your arms need strengthening, in order to help you steady yourself.
Even with a “new and improved” knee, hip or other joint, you will still need to gain flexibility with that new joint. In fact, your body has to learn how to find the balance between the new joint and its matching partner, in terms of interacting together. Your physical therapist will focus on range-of-motion moves that will help you regain this flexibility and balance.
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