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How to Prepare for Joint Surgery

Last updated: September 23, 2022

If you’ve been dealing with progressive pain in your knee, hip or shoulder — and it’s time to proceed with a replacement surgery to resolve the discomfort — that doesn’t mean you must stop exercising. 

In fact, ThedaCare Orthopedics experts say you can and should keep exercising right up to your surgery — with proper guidance from your providers. 

“Each surgery, individual and circumstance is different,” says Samantha Burmeister, a nurse practitioner with ThedaCare Orthopedics. “It is important to listen to your surgeon’s and physical therapist’s guidance on exercise limitations to prevent further injury.” 

But staying moving before a surgery can mean you will have a quicker recovery time and fewer complications after surgery, she says. 

Joint replacement surgery is most often needed in patients who have experienced degenerative changes in the joint. Those individuals can modify favorite activities to ease pain. For example, if you’re a runner, you might switch to an elliptical machine or a biking routine, says Madalyn Vander Loop, a physical therapist with ThedaCare Orthopedics.  

Normally, experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week. If you are experiencing pain, exercising in a pool can take the weight off your joint prior to a surgery and make it easier to keep up a physical routine. 

Additionally, ThedaCare offers a self-pay program in Appleton called MedFit. You can be referred into the program for 12 weeks, Burmeister says. 

“Surgery is not a prerequisite for the MedFit program, so this is a really great option for people in our community who want to improve their fitness,” she says. 

Providers may recommend that prior to surgery, you complete a ‘prehabilitation’ session with a physical therapist, Burmeister says. You will receive exercises that can help improve your strength, and you’ll learn what limitations you will have after surgery.  

“The more range of motion you have and the more strength you have prior to surgery, the better your outcomes are afterward,” Vander Loop says.  

How Much Activity is the Right Amount? 

How much you exercise prior to surgery can depend on which joint you are having replaced, Vander Loop says. For knees and hips, it’s best to stay as active as possible to maximize flexibility and help build muscle memory, which helps the body to better perform exercises after surgery. 

Likewise, strengthening your hips is important for both hip and knee surgery, as the hips provide stability when walking. 

For shoulders, it’s key to maintain your range of motion prior to surgery with simple exercises. That can include sliding your arm up a wall or lying on your back while holding onto a cane or a broomstick with both hands and raising your arms overhead, Vander Loop says. 

After surgery, you will talk to your surgeon about recovery times and activity expectations. But overall, continuing to move — short, frequent movement like walking — is important, Burmeister says.  

“This will not only help prevent stiffness and pain post-surgery, but it will also help prevent blood clots,” she says. 

Recovery times vary greatly, depending on factors like the type of surgery you’re having and how much you could move before. A post-op exercise program will you help strengthen and expand the range of motion of your joint. 

The new ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain offers a shared space for providers, allowing physical therapists to easily consult with physicians. The facility also features a large rehabilitation space with exercise equipment, a basketball court and turf areas to help patients get back to the activities they love. Physical therapy can be completed on an outpatient, inpatient or home-care basis. 

“ThedaCare has great physical and occupational therapists at the center to help you with this journey,” Burmeister says. “Your provider can make a recommendation if physical therapy is a good fit for you.”

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