Assistive Devices Help Patients After Joint Replacement Surgery
If you have just had hip replacement or knee replacement surgery, you may need some assistance in performing everyday tasks as you recover. Some patients are hesitant to use devices such as crutches, walkers or raised toilet seats because they feel the use of such aids represents a loss of independence. However, assistive devices actually give more independence to patients so they can recover with less pain. If your doctor instructs you to use support devices after surgery, by all means follow those instructions to the letter.
Assistive devices are used to prevent damaging your new joint, says Steven Gitelis, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon with 25 years of experience. Dr. Gitelis is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. He is also Professor and Associate Chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
Different doctors have different procedures on the use of such aids, Dr. Gitelis notes.
Six crucial weeks after hip replacement surgery
"Many of today's hip implants are cementless," says Dr. Gitelis. This means that rather than relying on bone cement to affix the new joint, the implant relies on natural tissue growth. The implant has a special coating that is rough, like sandpaper. The patient's tissue grows onto this so-called porous coating and creates a firm fit. But it takes about six weeks, notes Dr. Gitelis. Assistive devices are meant to help prevent the new hip from dislocating during this crucial period. "The intent is to keep the hip from being put in extreme positions." A raised toilet seat, for example, means less bending of the hip, keeping the hip in a more stable position. "After about six weeks, the patient's tissue has begun to affix to the matrix created by the porous coating on the implant, so the risk of dislocation begins to diminish," Dr. Gitelis says. Of course, each individual patient is different and you may find that you need to use them for a longer period of time, as indicated by your doctor.
Tender quadriceps after knee replacement surgery
Dr. Gitelis notes that knee implants are more often fixed with bone cement, but that assistive devices can be helpful because the patient's thigh muscles need time to heal after the surgery. Whether for hip or knee patients, "assistive devices are designed to help prevent falling, diminish pain, and enhance balance and security," says Dr. Gitelis.
Grabbers, grip bars, shoe horns
Devices that you may find helpful after hip or knee surgery include long-handled sponges for use during bathing, and long-handled reaching tools to aid in the grabbing of objects.
Many joint replacement patients are instructed to use walkers, crutches or canes as they recover from surgery. One popular device is a walker with a tray attached so patients can carry objects as they move from place to place. There is even a device called a sock aid that helps patients who cannot easily bend over to put on their socks.
Other assistive devices include long-handled shoe horns, shower chairs, gripping bars, and chair extenders, which can be placed on chair legs to elevate the seat. There are also lateral heel wedges that can be placed in shoes to help realign the knee. All these devices help patients perform everyday tasks while protecting their new joint from movements that can be painful and potentially damaging.
If you have just had a joint replacement surgery, your doctor may recommend specific assistive devices, and your health-care team will show you how to use them before you leave the hospital.
Not all health-insurance plans cover the cost of assistive devices. Many patients are able to find a friend or family member willing to donate their old assistive devices. Other patients find it helpful to inquire around their church or community centers to find people who are able to donate their used devices. Assistive devices can also be purchased at medical supply stores.
As you recover, it is important to have an open mind about learning to perform everyday activities in a new way. The message for patients is to recognize the importance of your doctor's instructions with respect to the use of canes, walkers, raised toilet seats or other devices he or she may recommend. This will help your recovery proceed as smoothly and painlessly as possible.