Ask the Therapist: Do I Really Need Physical Therapy Before Replacement Surgery?
“My surgeon is going to remove all the arthritis from my bone-on-bone knee and replace it so I am pain free! What’s the point of physical therapy before surgery?”
True – during most replacement surgeries, patients often have great success removing the arthritis and replacing the joints. However, one of the most critical pieces of joint health is often overlooked – the muscles surrounding the joint. Regardless of the type of replacement surgery – hip, shoulder, knee or even ankle – we recommend getting the ball rolling with physical therapy before your anticipated surgery.
Years of chronic pain as a result of painful, arthritic joints typically lead to unnatural compensations in the way you walk, move, and perform your daily activities. This creates weakness, stiffness, and more pain. A joint replacement will help immensely with the arthritic-related pain caused by the joint, but it does not help in restoring the strength and flexibility of the muscles surrounding the joint!
This is why getting started in physical therapy before your joint replacement surgery gives you the ultimate head start to recovery.
“Prehab,” or physical therapy before surgery, helps in rebuilding the strength in your arms and legs so there is less catch up following the surgery. Restoring your muscles to maximum function following years of dysfunction will take time, and the sooner we start the process, the more efficiently we can return you to the activities you need and love, pain free! Furthermore, light exercise has been shown to be one of the best things you can do for arthritic related pain. Therefore, starting a prehab program also helps in reducing your joint pain as you wait for surgery.
Research studied the effects of prehab in participants who received total knee replacements. The study split the participants into two groups – one with prehab, the other without. Results in the prehab group showed significant statistical improvements in overall function leading up to surgery, immediately following surgery, 3 months post-op, and 6 months post-op. Meaning the prehab program helped participants through the toughest phases of recovery – the months immediately following the knee replacement.
Some may worry that prehab will increase your joint pain. Not to worry. Our Buckeye physical therapy clinic offers aquatic therapy. Submerging yourself in a few feet of water removes 60-80% of your bodyweight from the joints, relieving significant pain and allowing you to move in ways you may otherwise be unable. Walking, stretching, and strengthening is all possible in this environment and at all different levels of capabilities. Traditional land-based therapy in combination with other approaches such as hands-on manual therapy and dry needling are proven beneficial and available at all AzOPT physical therapy locations.
If you’re unsure if prehab is right for you and would like a better understanding of the benefits to physical therapy, please schedule a free injury assessment with one of our licensed physical therapists today!