Nervous About Joint Replacement Surgery? You’re Not Alone

Patients may be nervous about joint replacement for a number of reasons.

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It’s completely normal to be anxious before any surgical procedure. However, joint replacement surgery in particular can stir up some unique worries. Luckily, patients can likely be less nervous about joint replacement surgery by talking to their surgeon and asking more questions.

How Will It Affect My Life?

You might be in pain now, but you might worry how you’ll feel after the surgery. What if the pain is the same? What if it’s worse?

“Patients can be afraid to have a joint replacement just because it does affect their activities of daily living,” says Ann Marie Moynihan, RN, director of nursing at NYU Langone Health. “They can be afraid, post-operatively, not to get back the same mobility that they had pre-operatively.”

However, joint replacement surgeries are statistically some of the most successful operations. In the majority of cases, patients experience a drastic reduction in pain and stiffness in the replaced joint, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Getting in optimal health before joint replacement surgery can improve outcomes.

Fear of the Unknown

Anxiety in general often stems from fear of the unknown. As painful as a joint may currently be, the fear of the surgery and the recovery may be enough to cause fear or put off the procedure.

“At times, you'll run into certain individuals who are more anxious than others. These are usually people who have never had a procedure before, never undergone anesthesia before, never been admitted to the hospital before, never had any kind of surgical procedure,” says William Macaulay, MD, orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health.

“Typically, I'll take a patient like that and give them the phone number of two or three patients just like them who had the procedure within the last few years,” says Dr. Macaulay. “That will go a long way to allay people's fears.”

Nervous About Joint Replacement Pain

Even if your joint will have less pain and better mobility after the surgery, you know you can expect pain immediately following the operation. Although this pain is temporary, it may be daunting for many people.

After hip replacement surgery, Dr. Macaulay notes that pain from the surgery typically subsides in two to three days. This recovery may take slightly longer for knee replacements.

“Typically, [knee replacement] patients have a little bit more pain and swelling around the time of surgery,” says Dr. Macaulay. “The knee is just anatomically disadvantaged from being in an area where it's not really able to swell very much.” As a result, when it inevitably swells following the surgery, it can be uncomfortable or painful.

Notably, you won’t have to tolerate the pain without any help. Pain medication can help reduce the pain safely until it naturally subsides. Additionally, you may not even need narcotics (opioids) to reduce your pain. With the breadth of pain control medication options, Dr. Macaulay notes that many of his patients are able to go home the same day.

What About Complications?

Obviously, every surgery comes with risks. As with any surgery, joint replacement comes with the risk of wound infection and blood clots. However, the vast majority of joint replacement surgeries are successful and complications are relatively rare.

“Every time someone's getting ready for joint replacement surgery, we'll have at least a short conversation about the potential complications,” says Dr. Macaulay. “Patients' fears are usually allayed by the fact that—if you add up all these different potential complications—the incidence is very low.”

How to Overcome Anxiety

“At times, patients have excessive fear or anxiety about the unknown [or] what's going to happen at the time of their hip or knee replacement surgery,” says Dr. Macaulay. “For those patients, I would highly recommend they just take the time to ask their surgeon or their surgeon's clinical team about what to expect. [There] is a lot of knowledge about this in the office, even if you didn't feel like you got all that knowledge the first time you met.”

Find out what to expect at your joint replacement surgery here, and learn more about how to overcome anxiety for joint replacement surgery here.