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Returning to Work After Joint Replacement Surgery


In the past, joint replacement surgery was thought to be the type of procedure primarily done on elderly patients. Today, joint replacement surgery is being done more and more on younger adults still in the workforce. If you are working, one of your chief concerns may be how surgery and rehabilitation will affect the way you do your job.

Joint replacement surgery is a major surgery and you will undoubtedly miss some work and may have to make some modifications even after you return. Depending on your job, this may put you behind or disrupt your schedule, which can initially be stressful. However, by planning ahead, you can find the best possible balance between taking care of yourself as you recover and getting back to work as quickly as you possible.

Punching the Clock After Joint Replacement Surgery

Image of man returning to work after joint replacement surgery.

The amount of time you wait before returning to work after joint replacement surgery varies depending on your situation and the type of job you have. In general, though, you may be able to go back to work in about six weeks if your job isn't physically demanding. Some people return even earlier, but it's essential that you have your doctor's approval first. Trying to do too much too soon can be counterproductive for a full recovery.

If your job entails a great deal of walking, standing, or lifting, you may have to wait three months or so before resuming those tasks. Certain types of physical labor, such as construction work, might never be advisable again. "Even sitting for long periods can cause stiffness and discomfort," says Sandy Ganz, P.T., a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "In some cases, you may have to modify your chair so that your knee is lower than your hip."

The best way to predict what changes you may need to make and for how long is to discuss your job in detail with your doctor before joint replacement surgery. You also may want to seek advice from a physical therapist or occupational therapist.

Common Restrictions After Joint Replacement Surgery

The specific restrictions you may face once you return to work depend on many factors, including the joint you have replaced, your overall health, and the exact demands of your job. In the case of a hip or knee replacement you may have to avoid certain activities for three months or longer. These activities may include:

  • Lifting anything over 25 pounds
  • Standing or sitting for prolonged periods
  • Walking a lot or without a walking aid
  • Climbing stairs or ladders frequently
  • Getting into positions that call for extremes in range of motion; for example, kneeling, stooping, and bending forward

Making It Work After Joint Replacement Surgery

Being flexible and creative can help you minimize the stress of returning to work. Here are some additional suggestions that may make the transition back to work life easier:

  • Keep an upbeat attitude. When you catch yourself having negative thoughts ("I'll never get used to doing things this way"), try to replace them with more realistically positive ones ("It may take some time, but I'll adjust").
  • Create an efficient workplace. Talk to your employer about ways to minimize unnecessary walking, standing, and lifting. Also, arrange in advance for any special equipment you may need, such as an appropriate chair.
  • Don't push yourself too hard. Prioritize your tasks, and do the most important ones when you're feeling most energetic. Then give yourself a break if you don't get everything done.

Joint replacement surgery and the recovery process introduce lifestyle changes some of which are life long. However, it's important to also focus on those things that remain the same. You still have the same fund of experience and knowledge to draw upon, and you still have much to contribute, even while your physical activities are limited.


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