How Long Before I Can Return to Work After a Joint Replacement?
With joint replacements happening on younger and younger patients, more and more people must factor a "return to work" into their recovery. The goal of getting back to work (in good time) is a top concern for many patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Recovering quickly before your sick leave expires, or you lose out on too much potential income, or lose your job entirely, can be a major stressor (as if you don't already have enough to think about!).
To help you get a better understanding of how long you'll need to play hooky for, we've put together this short "return to work guide after joint replacement surgery".
Read on to get a better idea of when you should aim to get back to work, how you can get back to work faster (if this is your goal), and tips for easing back into your 9-5 (or 7-3 or 7-7 or whatever-whatever) schedule.
97% of patients who were working preoperatively went back to work within 6 months of their surgery date.
When Can I Expect to Return to Work?
For those who are self-employed or can't get paid leave, it can feel like the clock is a tickin' to get back to work. Although the total long-term recovery time for a hip and knee replacement can extend beyond 6 months to a year, return-to-work time happens long before you're fully recovered. In fact, a study that looked at return-to-work time for sedentary jobs (office jobs) and higher demand jobs (trades jobs), found that on average patients returned to work 7-11 weeks after surgery. The 7 week average was (of course) for less physically demanding office jobs, while 11 weeks of recovery was the average return-to-work time for more demanding positions.
The study found that the key factor for predicting when a patient would return to work was "a sense of urgency". In other words, feeling financial or obligational pressure to get back on the ol' work saddle.
Those Who Tend to Return to Work Faster...
Were gainfully employed before surgery.
Weren't collecting disability insurance.
Had better physical function before surgery.
Had better range of motion scores after surgery.
When is It Safe to Return to Work?
You know yourself and your job the best. Simply, it's probably safe to return to work when your pain is under control and you've weaned yourself off your post-op dose of narcotic pain medication. Once you're finished taking narcotic pain medication during the day, you will be able to drive again, and will likely be getting back to a more normal, everyday routine.
Around the 6 week mark, you will have pain under better control, your swelling will have gone down, you're much more mobile, you're sleeping much better at night, and you will hopefully have had time to mentally and emotionally recover. In other words, once you start feeling like "you're old self" (only with a new joint), it's probably safe to start thinking about work again.
"My mobility has improved and my knee is pain free. Better quality of life. Happier to be at work" [Age 54, TKR, returned to work at 12 weeks].
Will I Return to the Same Job After My Surgery?
If your job is physically demanding, involves a lot of travel, or is fast-paced, this may be a question on your mind. However, according to a handful of studies in the US and UK, majority of people who are employed before surgery, will return to work after surgery and will return to the exact same role. In fact, those with high-demand jobs returned to their exact same job 88% of the time.
The same study found that in the same patient group, 14% ended up taking a more sedentary role. As expected, those that switched to a more sedentary role, had more physically demanding roles to begin with.
Return to Work (and Recover) Faster by:
PreHabbing Before Surgery...
Hopefully we've caught you early enough and you're still preparing for surgery. If so, good news! The more you put into getting physically, mentally, and environmentally preparing for surgery, the lower your risk on surgery day and the safer and faster your recovery will be. It's been proven that those who are more prepared and healthier on surgery day, do better and bounce back after surgery faster.
And ReHabbing After
Good, frequent physical therapy will go a lonnnnnnng way after joint replacement surgery. Your hospital and insurance should arrange for you to see a physical therapist a few times a week after surgery. In addition to rehabilitation with a professional PT, you should be supplementing with at-home ReHab. A great ReHab program should not just encourage you to run through a daily list of exercises that promotes healing, better range of motion, and greater movement, but should also help you mentally heal, monitor your progress, help you eat healthier, and more. A daily ReHab program will focus on all factors that help patients heal faster and better.
Those that have done a daily PreHab and ReHab program, have the ultimate advantage when it comes to finding their new normal, faster.
Tips for Returning to Work
If you're feeling good enough, pain is under control, and you've gotten the go ahead from your care team, it may be work time! Here are some tips for making your return to work a little easier:
"I'm much more mobile, happier in myself, less tired, therefore more patience with customers, staff and management" [Age 54, THR, returned to work at 8 weeks].
Start your "work routine" a week (or more) before: To ease into your return to work, start living by your workday routine. After surgery, your routine and daily habits may be all over the place, so it's best to try to wake-up at your proper work time, go to bed at the usual time, eat lunch on schedule etc. Some patients we spoke to even said they did a "dry run" driving to work and making sure they can get into the building okay.
Ice, Ice Baby: Keep an ice pack with water and rubbing alcohol in your work's freezer. If you work at a desk, elevating (with a foam wedge) and icing a couple times during the day is an excellent way to combat pain and further your healing. Some patients even brought their ice machine under their desk!
Do Your Exercises: While at your desk, you can perform a lot of the everyday flexion and strengthening exercises. Even if your job is outside of the office, spending a few minutes to fit in your daily routine while at work is a good mental break and will help you hit your recovery targets. Adding in this additional round of daily ReHab exercises will make a big impact over time!
Start on a Flexible / Part-Time Schedule: Although this is a luxury not everyone can afford, having some flexibility by your employer is a huge relief. Being able to start your work day a little earlier, leave a little earlier (if you're not feeling well, want to avoid commuter traffic etc.) or work from home a couple days a week is a huge bonus. If you can start part-time and work yourself back to a full-time schedule, this will also help to make the transition easier.
Are you thinking about a hip or knee replacement? Planning to go back to work after? Use PeerWell's PreHab program and continuing ReHab program to get you back on your toes after surgery. Sign-up today (PreHab and ReHab could be free for you!).