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Common Side Effects After Joint Replacement Surgery

Orthopedic surgery can affect your entire body, not just the bone or joint being operated on. In this article, Dr. Lawrie discusses common side effects of surgery that patients may feel in the first few days afterward.

What’s happening in my body in the days and weeks after surgery?

Joint replacement is a major surgery and its effects can linger for days or weeks. Not only on the bone/joint which you had replaced, but in the rest of your body as well. These side effects can include pain, nausea, the blues or feeling extra emotional, and so forth. Talk to your doctor about any changes you notice after surgery whether it be physical or emotional. 


Pain after surgery is expected. However, patients may be surprised to wake up with minimal pain at their surgical site, yet aches and pains elsewhere in their body. With modern anesthetic techniques like nerve blocks, pain signals from the actual site of surgery are blocked for the first 12-36 hours. This delayed onset of pain can catch some patients off guard. The good news is that pain at the surgery site generally peaks within the first week. Many patients may wake up from surgery with pain on other parts of their body. The operating room table, as well as positioning and manipulation of your body during surgery, can result in aches and pains throughout your body. These pains generally pass quickly without any treatment.


One of the more unpleasant side effects of surgery is nausea. Several different culprits may be to blame. Low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or dehydration after surgery can cause lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea. Intravenous fluids can be given during and after the procedure to help decrease the risk of these problems.

General anesthesia and sedative medications used during surgery can cause nausea, as can the narcotic pain medications used during and after surgery. These effects can usually be combated with anti-nausea medication. Usually, postoperative nausea and vomiting passes fairly quickly within the first few hours of the procedure. Patients who have a history of nausea and vomiting after surgery should talk to their surgeon and anesthesiologist so the team can be better prepared to prevent the unpleasant feeling before it starts.

Sore throat

Many patients wake up with a sore throat and some hoarseness. General anesthesia often requires a breathing tube be placed into a patient’s lungs, which can irritate the throat during surgery. However, even without a breathing tube, sore throat is common after surgery. Anesthetic medications can decrease saliva production and cause dry throat. Also, the cold, dry air in the operating room can result in throat irritation as well. Typically, most sore throats and hoarseness after surgery resolve within the first day or two without any treatment.


Just as when you first wake up in the morning, you may wake up from surgery feeling groggy. This is due to the medications given to keep you asleep during the procedure. Many anesthetic medications are out of your system within the first 24-48 hours and your mental sharpness should get back to normal relatively quickly. Older patients, and those with underlying dementia, are at risk for confusion that may come and go in the first few days to weeks after surgery. Typically, this resolves with minimal environmental changes and reorienting the confused person. 


Low-grade fevers (less than 101.1 F) are common during the first few days after surgery. When you’re under anesthesia or lying flat for extended periods of time, your lungs don’t work as hard as they normally do. As a result, some areas of your lungs temporarily close off. After surgery, this can cause a low-grade fever. This condition, called atelectasis, can be prevented and treated by sitting up in bed instead of lying down, as well as deep breathing to re-inflate your lungs fully. 

Slight increases in body temperature can also result from the stress response your body performs during surgery, as well as the healing effort your body makes after surgery. Fevers that don’t go away on their own or gets worse may be signs of a more significant problem like pneumonia, urinary tract infection, surgical infection, or blood clot. 

While many of these side effects of surgery are considered normal, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about the way you feel after surgery, as it could indicate a more significant problem.

You can also read more about some of the risks associated with your particular surgery by clicking the corresponding link here:

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