Preparing for Joint Replacement Surgery

You’ve made the decision to have joint replacement surgery and likely have questions about how to prepare. There’s a lot to consider, and much to be done, before you go to the hospital.

If you and your surgeon decide that joint replacement is right for you, a date will be scheduled for your surgery. Several things may be necessary to prepare for surgery. For example, your surgeon might ask you to have a physical examination by an internist or your primary care physician. This will help to ensure that other health problems you may have, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, are identified and treated before surgery. 

Your doctor may suggest that you lose weight and exercise. If you smoke, be sure to speak with your doctor about it, as smoking can dangerously increase surgical risks and slow down the healing process.

You should also finish any dental work that may be underway to prevent germs in your mouth from entering the bloodstream and infecting the joint. A blood transfusion may be necessary during surgery, so your surgeon may place an order with the blood bank just in case. If you prefer, or if your surgeon feels it’s needed, you may want to donate your own blood ahead of time to reduce the risk of your body reacting to the blood transfusion.

Another thing you’ll want to start thinking about are the financial aspects of surgery. How much, if any, will your insurance cover? What might be some costs you haven’t thought of yet? A great starting point might be checking out either, Insurance and Joint Replacement - Your Guide to Getting Started or Financial Planning for Joint Replacement Surgery.

About four weeks before surgery

Become more familiar with your joint’s anatomy. You may find it helpful to understand how your natural joint works and how the surgery is intended to help reduce your pain. Your surgeon may give you educational materials.  You can also find more information by clicking a link below:

Prepare questions to ask your doctor. You can print the list of questions linked below and take it with you to your next appointment. As your surgeon gives you instructions on how to prepare for surgery, take notes and refer to them once you are home.

About three weeks before surgery

Contact friends and family for support. You may need help bathing, using the toilet, cooking meals, doing laundry or housework, shopping, going to your doctor’s office, and exercising for several weeks. Contact family members or friends ahead of time to make the necessary arrangements. If you don't have someone to help you at home, ask your doctor about home caregivers. The Arthritis Foundation also has a support network that can provide emotional support. You can contact your local chapter or go to the Arthritis Foundation Website (arthritis.org) for more information. In many areas, there are also businesses that offer in-home support.

Get your home ready for your recovery. Store frequently used items such as cleaning supplies, food, remote controls, medications, and reading materials in easy-to-reach locations. Avoid very high or very low shelves as these may require you to use a step stool or kneel.

Plan for meals. Make and freeze meals or stock up on frozen dinners before surgery so that meal preparation is easier and requires less effort. You should plan on making enough meals for at least one week.

Check the safety of your home to prevent falls or tripping. Move long electrical and telephone cords against the wall, remove rugs, and place a non-skid mat in your bathtub. You may want to prepare a bed on the ground level of your home so you can avoid climbing stairs. Have an elevated chair or high-seated chair with arms in every room if possible.

A little time spent getting your home ready before your surgery can make a big difference in your recovery. Some ideas to get started, include:

  • Stock up on toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, medications, and other personal items
  • Put a chair in your shower
  • Get a hand-held shower head
  • Get a raised toilet seat
  • Get a shower sponge with a long handle
  • Put handrails in the shower and next to the toilet
  • Install nightlights throughout the house
  • Wash all your towels, linens, and dirty clothes
  • Place loose clothing and pajamas in upper drawers or closets
  • Reachers and grabbers will come in handy
  • To keep your hands free for balance, consider using a walker basket, fanny pack, small backpack, or an apron with large pockets to hold things you'll want nearby
  • Rent/buy/borrow plenty of books, movies, music, and puzzles
  • Call your local post office to request that mail be left at your front door instead of in your mailbox

About two weeks before surgery

Your surgeon may not want you to take any aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications for a couple of weeks before surgery. You may be able to take medicines with acetaminophen. Be sure to discuss this with your surgeon.

Purchase or borrow the special equipment your surgeon recommends. This may include an elevated commode and small devices such as a grabber. You can find these items at most hospital supply sections of large drugstores or in mail-order catalogs from department stores. Practice using the items at home.

About one week before surgery

If you are currently taking any medicines bring a list which includes name(s), dose(s), and how often you take the medication. You will want to take this with you when you register at the hospital.

You may need to visit the hospital or clinic typically three to nine days before your surgery. Depending on the country you live in, preparations such as insurance verification, lab work, X-rays, and electrocardiogram (EKG) may be required. Check with your surgeon to see what needs to be done in your case.

You may want to balance your checkbook, pay bills, make arrangements to board pets, and stop the delivery of your newspaper. If you are going to a rehabilitation facility after being discharged from the hospital, you can ask your local post office to hold your mail until you return home.

Some supermarkets and pharmacies provide delivery services to your home. This will make it easier for you if you need groceries or medications when you return home after surgery. Call supermarkets and pharmacies to see if they provide delivery services and if they charge a fee.

Week of surgery

Pack for the hospital. Below is a list of things you may want to bring with you to the hospital in preparation for your surgery. We recommend that you leave your personal belongings with family members until after surgery or in the assigned room that you will return to after surgery.

  • Personal grooming items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, eyeglasses/contacts, comb, deodorant, shaving cream/electric razor, shampoo, lotion, undergarments, and a robe.
  • Rubber-soled slippers or shoes for walking in the hallways.
  • Loose fitting clothing for your trip home.
  • Medications you are currently taking. You should also write down your medication information for the hospital staff. Be sure to include the name, strength, dosage, and how often you take the medication. Tell your doctors and the nursing staff about any allergies you might have.
  • If you use a breathing exerciser (IBE), be sure to bring it with you from home, as you will probably need this right after surgery. Check with your surgeon about this.
  • Leave jewelry, credit cards, car and house keys, checkbooks, and items of personal value at home; bring only enough pocket money for items such as newspapers, magazines, etc.

Day before surgery

Eating or drinking after midnight will most likely not be allowed by your surgeon (not even water). Check with your physician about this. Your anesthesiologist may prescribe a medication for you to take the evening before surgery.

A little time spent getting yourself and your home ready before your surgery can make a big difference. For more information, contact your surgeon or read:

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