Life After Joint Replacement

April 3, 2014

The sky was deep blue without a single cloud as I stood by the field at the Pepperell airfield, watching a patient fulfill his dream of skydiving with his granddaughter.  Six months earlier, when we discussed replacing his hip, I told him that the two things that I absolutely do not recommend doing after joint replacement are jumping out of airplanes and running marathons.   Crestfallen, he explained to me that skydiving was on his “bucket list” of things to do, and it was one of the many things he was unable to do because of his hip arthritis.   “Maybe just one time” I told him, not really expecting that he would go through with his plans.   And now, here we were.  He had recovered quickly after his surgery, and now was ready to fly with his new hip.  I scanned the sky, watching his chute deploy and glide gracefully towards the earth.  I held my breath and was relieved to see his smile and thumbs up after he landed safely.

What can you do after a joint replacement? Just about anything you want to do.  The goal of joint replacement surgery is to get you back doing the activities you enjoy.  Recently I watched another patient complete in a regional tennis tournament after her knee replacement.   Many of my joint replacement patients enjoy gardening, walking, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and skiing.  However, there are some activities that are discouraged.  For example, high impact activities such as distance running or singles tennis should be avoided because of the risk of the joint wearing out prematurely.  Similarly, high risk activities such as skydiving or black diamond skiing are not recommended due to the risk of a fracture or dislocation.

After recovering from their hip or knee replacement, patients often say to me “You gave me back my life.”  The most rewarding part of being a joint replacement surgeon is hearing about (and sometimes witnessing) the fun things that people can do without pain after their joint replacement surgery.  Although surgery is not without risk, for patients who have severe arthritis that is limiting their activities, joint replacement surgery can be a life altering experience.