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Learn about rehab before you have a joint replacement

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January 7th, 2014
woman getting rehab
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When the new year comes, many people resolve to be in better health. If you have arthritis, improving your health might mean making the tough decision to undergo a joint replacement. 

Knee replacements are by far the most common, with about 500,000 people having at least one replaced each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hip replacements are second with about 250,000 performed every year.

A professional opinion

Your doctor can help you decide if the time is right for a joint replacement. “If you’ve tried conservative measures such as pain medication, injections, and physical therapy and they are no longer working, that’s a sign that it may be time to have surgery,” says Myla Carpenter, M.D., medical director at Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md.

In order to do well during and after surgery, you need to be in your best health. “Before considering surgery, you should be at your ideal weight,” Carpenter says. “Any medical conditions you have should be treated and well controlled.”

After surgery

Many people focus so much on the procedure itself that they don’t put much thought into one of the most important aspects of a joint replacement—the rehabilitation process. Knowing what to expect in advance may help you prepare.

Once you’ve left the hospital, the intensive rehabilitation often begins in an inpatient facility. Whether or not you will need an inpatient stay depends on a number of factors. “If you weren’t functioning at your best level before surgery, you might need a rehab stay,” Carpenter explains. “The older you are, the likelihood increases as well.”

Be prepared to work hard.  “A few weeks in a rehabilitation facility means you get more intensive therapy than if you went home right after surgery,” Carpenter says. “Some facilities offer physical and occupational therapy six days a week. At home, you typically have three sessions of therapy each week.”

The physical therapy portion of rehab focuses on flexibility and getting you moving again. But rehab is about more than learning to walk. “Occupational therapists help you figure out the best and safest way to do daily living activities such as getting dressed and doing personal care,” Carpenter says.

You can expect pain after a joint replacement, so pain management is a big part of rehabilitation. “If your pain isn’t well managed you won’t want to fully participate in your therapy,” Carpenter explains.  

Choosing the right facility

You can expect to be in a rehab facility for several weeks, so you want to make sure it’s somewhere you can live comfortably for that period of time. Doing research ahead of time can help you have the best experience.

“Having a provider available in the building is an important consideration,” Carpenter says. “At Erickson Living’s continuing care neighborhoods, we have a nurse practitioner on-site to evaluate the patients. This way, problems can be addressed immediately. It might save someone a trip to the emergency room.”

Ask about nurse-to-patient ratios. “You need a lot of support and assistance when you are going through rehabilitation,” Carpenter says. “You want to make sure staff is available when you need them.”

You’ll also want to know how often you will get therapy and what kind of equipment is on-site.

Other facilities may have a general population of patients, but the continuing care neighborhoods at Erickson Living campuses focus on older patients exclusively. “One factor that sets our facilities apart is the staff,” Carpenter says. “They are experts in caring for seniors.”

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