Caring for a Loved One After Total Joint Replacement Surgery

Photo of a woman and daughter in physical therapy.
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A friend or loved one has had a total hip replacement surgery, and while recovering in the hospital, a physical therapist enters to start the rehab process. Watching your loved one grimace as he or she gets up and walks with their new hip makes you feel helpless. What can you do? How can you be an active helper in someone else's total joint rehab without being overbearing or getting in the way? What is the best way to be a caregiver for someone after total joint replacement surgery?

How You Can Help

If a friend or family member is having joint replacement surgery, there are things you can do to help out. These may include simple things or more complicated jobs, but any bit can be helpful while your loved one is recovering. Various ways a caregiver can help after joint replacement surgery may include:

  • Help prepare for the surgery. Before surgery, many people benefit from learning a few exercises to do. Pre-op physical therapy for joint replacement surgery can help the patient have maximum strength and mobility that can have a positive impact on the post-op recovery. Plus, learning about the pending surgery can help put everyone's mind at ease about what to expect. Encourage your family member to visit a physical therapist for some pre-op training while preparing for the total joint surgery.
  • Help with managing an assistive device. After surgery, your family member may be walking with a wheeled walker or crutches, and he or she may need help managing these items. Getting a walking aid into and out of the car or up and down stairs may require a bit of work, and you, as a caregiver, can be just the person to help.
  • Help with the home exercise program. After surgery, the physical therapist will likely prescribe a home exercises program (HEP). This may occur in the hospital, at a rehab facility, or at an outpatient PT facility. The HEP is essential, and it allows your loved one to work independently on gaining strength and mobility in between therapy sessions. As a caregiver, you can help keep track of the HEP and can ensure that the exercises are done properly.
  • Offer encouragement and motivation. The rehab can be tough after total joint replacement surgery. One of your main jobs may be to simply offer motivation and encouragement for your loved one. Helping the patient stay focused on the long-term goals of therapy can help ensure a positive outcome after joint replacement surgery.
  • Help organize medication. Some patients require medication after total joint surgery to control pain and inflammation. Helping to organize and manage medication can be an essential task for your loved one after total joint replacement.
  • Offer gentle reminders of post-operative precautions. After a total hip replacement, there may be movement precautions that must be followed to ensure the joint does not dislocate. The same holds true for a total shoulder replacement. Learning these precautions and helping your loved one maintain them is an essential task of a caregiver.
  • Assist with transportation to and from physical therapy. When your loved one is discharged from the hospital, he or she may need transportation assistance to get to therapy or to the doctor's office. In the immediate post-op period, driving may be forbidden, and the job of the caregiver may be to ensure safe and reliable transportation for your friend or loved one.
  • Watch for signs of depression. Research published Aging and Mental Health Journal indicates that approximately one in four patients suffer some form of depression before and after total knee replacement surgery. This is likely due to pain, limited mobility, and limited social interaction after the surgery. Watch out for signs of depression, and inform the physical therapist or doctor of any concerns about your family member's symptoms.

In general, being available to your friend or loved one after total joint replacement may be all that is necessary. Offering care and motivation may be all that is needed. Listen to the patient, and be patient yourself when caring for your loved one after total joint replacement.

How Physical Therapy Can Help

It is a good idea to accompany your friend or loved one to PT after total joint replacement. The physical therapist can work with you (and the patient) to help everyone understand what needs to be done to provide the best care. Some things the PT can do may be:

  • Provide instruction to you about total joint precautions.
  • Teach you how to operate assistive devices
  • Teach you about weight bearing procedures
  • Providing a written home exercise program for both you and the patient and instructing you on how each exercise should be done
  • Offer suggestions to provide the best level of motivation and encouragement for the patient

Be sure to listen to the physical therapist, and try not to be too overbearing during therapy sessions. The PT will address you when necessary; there's nothing worse than a caregiver that impedes rehab progress after total joint replacement.

A Word From Verywell

It can be difficult watching someone you care about go through total joint replacement surgery and rehab, and you may want to get involved and help. Being a caregiver for someone after total joint replacement can be tough. You may not know what is needed or what to do to provide the best help. Work with a trusted physical therapist and listen to the patient's needs, and you can be certain to be an effective caregiver for someone after total joint replacement surgery.

View Article Sources
  • Scott, JE, etal. Depression and anxiety after total joint replacement among older adults: a meta-analysis. Aging Ment Health, 20(12): 2015; 1243-1254.