Joint replacement surgery has evolved over the years. Technology and techniques have improved, outcomes are better, and recovery time is faster! Knowing what to expect and being prepared can help make your recovery easier.

What to expect after joint replacement surgery

The hospital stay is typically only a day or two. Remarkably, within a few hours after surgery, most patients are able to walk short distances with staff assistance and using a walker. On the day after surgery, our patients are often using their walkers in the hallway, with staff, and practicing on the stairs with physical therapists. Your nurse and doctor will be involved in managing your pain after surgery. Your occupational therapist will help you address home safety issues, provide guidance on bathing and dressing, and other concerns that may occur with your return to home.

Rehabilitation at home

Many patients are able to return home immediately after discharge. Patients undergoing hip and knee replacements are generally sent home the day after surgery as long as they are able to safely mobilize and care for themselves at home, with family support as needed.

Through our experience, we have found that home is the best place for rehab! Patients who go home have the best outcomes. There, you have the benefit of eating your own food, sleeping in your own bed, controlling your own routines and environment, and you are at less risk for an infection.

Generally, patients who get up multiple times per day recover better and faster than those who sit for prolonged periods. Their muscles strengthen more quickly because movement prevents stiffness from setting in. Frequent light activity also helps prevent blood clots, helps your digestive tract recover faster, and helps you get back to those activities you enjoy.

Your hospital case manager will arrange for the necessary home visits from physical and occupational therapists to address your particular needs. There, they will have you do your home exercises and activities in a setting that is very familiar to you. Once you're moving and feeling better and ready to transition to the community, you can start outpatient physical therapy.

How long is recovery?

Each week after surgery, you will slowly be able to resume more activities and begin to move like you're meant to. Usually it takes two to three months to fully recover. Your muscles and bones need that time to heal. During that time, you will become more independent, have less pain, and be able to do more activities as you progress. Initially you use a rolling walker to help with balance and pain, but many people are able to graduate from the walker to a cane within the first month. During follow up appointments with your surgeon, you will be cleared for certain activities again, such as driving.

Can I be home alone?

We recommend that a family member stay with you the night you are discharged from the hospital to ease your transition home. Many are able to walk and manage their own self-care such as bathing, dressing, going to the bathroom without assistance. However, you will need to arrange to have family support or hired help for tasks that involve heavy lifting such as laundry, taking out the trash, and yard work.

How can I prepare my home in advance of surgery to make it easier when I come home?

Preparing your home before surgery will be helpful for you and your family members. There are things you can think about and address to help make your transition to home and your recovery easier.

Think about the rooms that you frequently use now, and the activities that you typically do in them. Are you having difficulty currently with certain tasks? The time to make those changes is before your surgery. Here are some things that can make your return to home easier:

  • Remove clutter or any obstacles in your path such as throw rugs or wires that may be tripping hazards.
  • Be sure you have adequate lighting, including an easily reached bedside lamp and a night light in the bathroom.
  • Consider having hand rails installed where they may be help improve your ease of mobility, such as the stairs, in the bathroom, or by your bed.
  • Plan to carry a cell phone on you or have phones easily accessible in the home.
  • Plan your meals. Many patients stock their freezers with pre-made meals prior to surgery. Others have family assistance. Most people will be able to prepare a sandwich, cereal, and other light meal prep tasks, but standing on your feet and cooking for prolonged periods may be difficult initially.
  • Place frequently used items "in the strike zone.” This is a place where you could easily reach without bending over too much or having to stand on other objects or on the tip of your toes to access items. In the kitchen, this may mean having frequently used pots and pans left on the counter or stove for convenience. In the bathroom, have toiletries within arm’s reach.

One other tip: Most falls happen when people are rushing to go to the bathroom or to answer the phone or doorbell. Take your time!

Helpful items to have at home

Your therapists and case manager will work with you to explain what is best for your recovery, as each patient’s needs are different. However, it may be helpful to have the following items available in your home to help with your rehab:

  • rolling walker
  • grab bars in shower and by toilet
  • secure railings in stairways
  • raised toilet seat or commode
  • shower chair
  • long-handled bathing and dressing tools, such as a bath brush and shoe horn

Our experienced team in the Total Joint Center is focused on caring for each of our patients to help get you back on your feet, doing what you enjoy. For more information on joint replacement, please visit our website.


Heidi Antosh, MS, OTR/L, and Liz Clegg, MS, OTR/L BCPR

Heidi Antosh and Liz Clegg are occupational therapists in the inpatient rehabilitation department at The Miriam Hospital.