Luckily, major joint replacement surgery complications are rare.
Joint replacement surgery is a very common procedure. As safe and common as they are, every surgery has the chance of risks. You can reduce your risk of joint replacement surgery complications by following your surgeon’s recommendations before and after the surgery.
There are a number of potential risks that could happen after hip or knee replacement surgery, according to William Macaulay, MD, orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. However, “the good news is that [the majority of patients] go through their procedure without a major medical or surgical complication," he says.
Joint Replacement Surgery Complications
Although fairly rare, the most common joint replacement surgery complications include infection of the operative site, blood clots, and nerve injury.
The following may be signs of an infection or other complications, according to Ann Marie Moynihan, RN, director of nursing at NYU Langone Health:
- Increased pain at the operative site
- Swelling of the operative site
- Drainage at the operative site
- Increased body temperature
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased mobility
If you have concerns about symptoms after your surgery, it’s important to let your surgeon’s office know, says Moynihan.
Prior to Surgery
Reducing your risk of joint replacement surgery complications starts weeks or months before the surgery. There are a number of risk factors that can increase the chances of complications, including cigarette smoking and being overweight. For this reason, your doctor will give you guidelines for getting into optimal health before surgery. This may reduce the risk of complications.
After the Surgery
Moynihan recommends having a caregiver or family member with you on the day of surgery and “especially within the first 24 hours after surgery.” Not only can they help provide transportation to and from the hospital, but they can also help with any pain management, wound care, and recovery support at home.
Once you are home from the surgery, it’s critical to follow any guidance provided by your surgeon. These instructions may reduce the risk of infections and improve the surgical outcome. You and your post-surgery caregiver should read all provided instructions thoroughly and ask any questions that may come up.
“We give them very strict instructions as to what to do with their dressing and how to manage their wound,” says Dr. Macaulay. “We give them advice on how long to use their cane or walker, [and] how to work with a physical therapist to decrease the chances that they might trip and fall.”
During your recovery, don’t be afraid to contact your surgeon if any questions come up. It’s better to “over-communicate” than to make incorrect assumptions that may lead to joint replacement surgery complications. (Learn more about what to expect during joint replacement recovery here.)
Similarly, contact your surgeon before going to the emergency room if you notice an unexpected change during recovery. “Just touch base with the surgeon and just ask if this is a normal experience for a patient who has undergone this procedure,” says Moynihan.