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What To Expect After Surgery

Weeks 1 to 4 at Home

Our health team members are available to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You or a family member can call and receive answers to general questions as well as instructions in the event of an emergency. Do not hesitate to call your surgeon’s office regardless of the issue.

During the first six weeks after discharge, you should be making progress week by week. Most patients are eager to report their progress at follow-up visits and are ready to move to the next level in their recovery. Most patients can accomplish the following during the first six weeks after total joint replacement:

  • Walk without help on a level surface with the use of a walker, crutches, or cane as appropriate.
  • Climb stairs as tolerated.
  • Get in and out of bed without help.
  • Get in and out of a chair or car without help.
  • Shower using a tub bench once staples are removed – as long as there are no issues with the incision.
  • Resume your activities of daily living including cooking, light chores, walking, and going outside the home. You should certainly be awake and moving around most of the day.
  • Some patients return to work before the first follow-up visit. This is approved on an individual basis and should be discussed with your surgeon.

Icing and Elevation

After a joint replacement, swelling is expected. Swelling can cause increased pain and limit your range of motion, so taking steps to reduce the swelling is important. Continue using ice packs or some form of cold therapy to help reduce swelling.

For knee replacement, you may use pillows to elevate; however, it’s important to elevate the entire leg, down to the ankle. Never put a pillow only behind your knee so your knee is in a bent position. Your knee should be straight when elevated.

Sexual Activity After Joint Replacement

Many people worry about resuming sexual activity after a joint replacement.

Hip - Generally, it is safe to resume sexual activity six weeks after surgery as long as there is not significant pain. Initially, being on your back will be the safest and most comfortable positioning. As your hip heals, you will be able to take a more active role. Please discuss any specific concerns with your physical therapist or advance practice nurse.

Knee - Sexual activity may resume when you are comfortable. If interested you may request a pamphlet demonstrating safe positions. Talk with your physical therapist or occupational therapist.


Resume your diet as tolerated and include vegetables, fruits, and proteins (such as meats, fish, chicken, nuts, and eggs) to promote healing. Also, remember to have an adequate fluid intake (at least 8 glasses a day). It is common after surgery to lack an appetite. This may be the result of anesthesia and the medications.

Proper nutrition is needed for healing. During the healing process, the body needs increased amounts of calories, protein, vitamins A and C, and sometimes, the mineral zinc. Eat a variety of foods to get all the calories, proteins, vitamins, and minerals you need.

If you have been told to follow a specific diet, please follow it. What you eat can help heal your wounds and prevent infection and potential complications.

If you’re not eating well after surgery, contact your healthcare provider about nutritional supplements.

Weeks 6 to 12 at Home

This period after joint replacement is a time of continued improvement. You will probably notice an increase in energy, a desire to do more activities, and a noticeable improvement in your new joint. Please keep in mind that every patient is different and will improve at a different pace. If you are not happy with the pace of your recovery, please contact your surgeon’s office to discuss your concerns.


After your four-week follow-up visit, you will likely begin weaning off using a cane to walk and move about. Walk with the cane as much as you want as long as you are comfortable.

Back to Work

Many patients return to work after the four-week follow-up visit.

Tips to remember for returning to work include:

  • Avoid heavy lifting after you return to work.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Avoid activities such as frequently climbing stairs or climbing ladders.
  • Avoid kneeling, stooping, bending forward or any position that puts the new joint under extreme strain.
  • Expect a period of adjustment. Most people return to work with few problems. However, you may find the first several days very tiring. Give yourself time to adjust to work again and gradually this should improve.

Continue Exercise Program

Continue to exercise. Many patients stop working with physical therapy during this time. However, exercising is the most important activity to increase strength and leads to the best outcome. Work or home activities should not replace your exercise program.

Comply with all Restrictions

Although you are feeling back to normal, it is important to understand and follow the restrictions your surgeon discussed with you. Any restrictions are to protect your operative hip or knee as you continue to heal. If you want to achieve a successful outcome, be patient and follow your surgeon’s instructions.

Four Month Follow-Up

You will see your surgeon for another follow-up visit about 4 months after surgery. We encourage you to resume normal activities both inside and outside the home. Helpful tips:

  • Be realistic and pace yourself and gradually resume activities.
  • Increase your walking distance and activities, but not all at once.
  • Keep a cane in the trunk of your car to aid with discomfort or uneven or icy ground.
  • Enjoy the benefits of your total joint.
  • Continue to call with any questions or concerns. Our staff is always available to assist you.

One Year and Future Follow-Up Visits

Your next appointment is one year after surgery, then yearly unless told otherwise. These appointments give you a chance to discuss any concerns about your total joint replacement or other joints in which symptoms may develop.

Lifelong Fitness

The goal of your surgery is to give you a new joint that allows you to perform everyday activities without pain. However, this joint is not indestructible. Avoid sports or other activities that may put stress on the joint until discussed with your surgeon. Stay as active as you can after recovering from your surgery.

Ask your surgeon or therapist about activities and exercises that are right for you. It may or may not be appropriate to return to the exercise routine that you used before surgery.

An increase in body weight puts stress on the hip and knee, so try to maintain a healthy weight.