Managing Pain and Function Following Joint Replacement Surgery


More than 1 million patients undergo total knee or hip replacement surgeries each year in the US and numbers continue to climb. The trend might be easily explained by an increasing number of elderly people, but reports are showing that there is a growing trend for younger patients to opt for surgery.

No matter how old you are when you go for surgery, one thing is certain: you will feel pain.

For most patients this is not a new sensation. The majority of patients seek joint replacement surgery because they have been living with pain for extended periods of time. It is easy to think that surgery is a quick fix and in some ways it is. The new joint is ready to function immediately and many patients are beginning their physical therapy rehabilitation on the same day as their surgery. But what most people do not expect is how much recovery it will take to overcome the damage caused by the surgery.

The nature of joint replacement surgery involves deep penetration into the body that requires tissue cutting, splinting, stretching, stapling, nerve severing, and bone scraping/removal to name a few. Having a clear understanding of what you are getting into, and how much pain to expect following the surgery, will help you recover quicker and help you manage post-operative pain more effectively.

Pain that is left unaddressed negatively impacts our healing capacities by causing mental and physical stress which leads to slower and incomplete recoveries. Education on the types of post-operative pain that will be experienced as well as group rehab classes with patients that underwent similar procedures has shown to improve pain management and recovery outcomes. Immediately after surgery pain killing drugs such as opioids have proven to be beneficial for long term outcomes as it allows the patient to begin moving their new joint through greater ranges of motion and even bearing weight through the new joint without such intense emotional and physical discomfort.

Patients are urged to move beyond opioids or limit their intake as soon as possible because of the risk of addiction which can cause serious mental and physical damage. But what do patients move on to?

Often times patients move on to anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen to help them manage their pain but inevitably they rely on physical therapy to get them pain free and functional once again. Research has proven that Cryotherapy and Electrical Stimulation are effective modalities to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling in the effected joint.

While these modalities are essential to post-operative pain management at the joint, at Body Tuning & Physical Therapy, we take the more holistic approach to restoring the body by also improving the function of the surrounding joints to alleviate pressure on the prosthetic as well as destressing the nervous system to optimize the natural healing capacities of the body. Our Body Tuning techniques can reduce the traumatic impact of joint replacement by not only directly managing pain at the surgical site, but also by using the rest of the body to support the newly acquired hardware.

The nature of opting for joint replacement surgery implies that there was a serious pathology in the patient’s original joint. It has been well documented that when people are experiencing pain, the body tries to protect itself by restricting range of motion through a mechanism known as “muscle guarding.” This is the body’s subconscious way of putting a cast on an effected area. When the hip is painful, the body will opt for compensatory movement in the spine and other lower extremity joints. Surgery does not undue these compensations. While the prosthetic hip joint itself may be new and functional, the affected areas in the spine and lower leg will need to be retuned before your body can move normally with the new prosthesis. Our Body Tuning exercises as well as our manual therapy skills allow the body to release its guarding and learn to move in a fully integrated and natural way once again. Taking a more holistic approach to recovery after joint replacement is essential to long term success and pain free living.