After a rheumatoid arthritis-related surgery, you likely will be anxious to begin your recovery in order to regain your mobility. With a new joint, a fusion, or some other procedure, you’ll likely have expectations of less pain and a new lease on life. To help you get there safely and quickly, adopt the following tips.
The post-surgery instruction sheet
Before you’re discharged from the hospital, you’ll meet with your surgeon, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and/or nurse. You’ll go home with an instruction sheet on how to best care for yourself as you step onto the road to recovery. Refer to this sheet often. Remember that although you may have had this particular surgery once, they’ve had the experience of numerous patients. Experience counts!
Good help – wanted!
You’re going to need some help, post-surgery. Ideally, you’ll want to arrange this prior to going into the hospital. Ask for suggestions from others, if you’re not sure where to turn. The Arthritis Foundation may be able to provide recommendations and solutions. Your friends, family, or even neighbors, may be willing to spare some time to help get you back on your feet.
Initially, there isn’t a lot you can do, especially if you’re in considerable pain. But, there’s one thing you’re doing anyway, so why not make it part of your healing practice? How you breathe can make all the difference. Are you chest breathing? Do you notice your shoulders significantly lifting with each breath? Start small, then increase the time to work on using your diaphragm to exhale and inhale.
Soothing, smoothing, touching, healing
The value of touch has been well-documented. Gentle self-massage can ease some of that stiffness and swelling that occurs after surgery. Don’t underestimate the merits of ice packs and heat packs. Arnica cream smoothed around your surgical site can help with healing. Once you’re feeling a little better, consider a manicure, pedicure, or massage. Just be sure to communicate your needs.
As an RA patient, you’re familiar with pain. Post-surgery, you’ll have yet another layer of pain. It is crucial that you stay on top of it. As the days pass, you’ll find the pain lessening, and, as it does, you will be able to ease off on your pain medications. Help yourself by doing some of the things mentioned in this slideshow, along with meditation. If the pain is worsening, do check back with your surgeon.
The gas and the brake
Think about your car and how vital the gas and the brake are for your ability to get around safely. Now, think about your body like a “vehicle” and apply the principle of the gas and brake to your recovery. Are you stepping on the gas—physically, mentally, or emotionally—to arrive at your destination too quickly? Surgery can take a lot out of you; give yourself permission to brake, and take time to rest.
Strength, endurance and sensibility
If you go to physical therapy, you will be given exercises to help you regain your strength, endurance and mobility. Be sure to do the exercises correctly to stimulate your muscle memory. If you need aids, such as a walker or wheelchair, use them. As you improve, you may be able to put them back into storage. You may even want to record your gains so that you can see how far you’ve come.
Be the tortoise
You may have a tendency to want to speed things up – after all, you have places to go, and people to see. Doing too much, too soon, may end up costing you in the long run. Like the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race. As you begin to feel better, you can do more, whether it be walking, lifting, stretching, or working. Learn to deeply listen to your body. It will tell you when you’ve done too much.
While you’re “braking” to recover, you may find the days long. There may be only so much television you can watch. This is an ideal time to take up a project you’ve never had time for, or to learn something new. Keep your mind active. You can do this by exploring your creative side – like practicing drawing, sketching, knitting, or crocheting. Learn a language or a fun instrument like a harmonica or ukulele. Organize your photos.
The ultimate reward, post-surgery, is to achieve less pain and more mobility. However, it doesn’t hurt to set up targets for yourself. When you achieve them, be sure to celebrate. Share the news with a supportive friend or family member. Treat yourself to lunch. Buy that little item you’ve been holding out on. Celebrate your recovery.