Orthopaedic Surgery Recovery: What to Expect and How to Prepare


Orthopaedic surgery involves surgical procedures performed on the musculoskeletal system, including bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This surgery is often recommended to address various orthopaedic conditions, such as arthritis, fractures, dislocations, and ligament tears. While surgery is an integral part of the treatment process, proper post-operative care is essential to ensuring a successful outcome.

Screw and bones in surgery

What Is Orthopaedic Surgery Post-Op Care?

Post-operative care, working together to provide comprehensive care and support throughout recovery, is provided after surgery to promote healing, manage pain and swelling, prevent complications, and maximise recovery. Depending on the type of orthopaedic surgery you have, your post-operative care plan may include a combination of medications, physical therapy, rehabilitation exercises, lifestyle modifications, and follow-up appointments with your surgeon.


Post-operative care for orthopaedic surgery involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals collaborating to provide comprehensive care and support throughout recovery. Here are some of the personnel who may be involved in post-op care:


The surgeon who performed the orthopaedic surgery is responsible for monitoring your recovery and providing specific instructions on post-operative care. They will typically schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.


Nurses play a critical role in post-operative care by monitoring your vital signs, administering medications, and providing wound care. They also offer education on self-care and assist with activities of daily living.


Physiotherapists are trained in movement and function and can help you regain mobility, strength, and flexibility after orthopaedic surgery. They will develop a customised rehabilitation plan based on your needs and monitor your progress to ensure you are improving steadily.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists help you regain independence and manage activities of daily living after orthopaedic surgery. They may provide education on assistive devices, such as walkers or crutches, and recommend modifications to your home or work environment.


  1. One of the main goals of post-operative care is to prevent complications. After surgery, you may risk developing infections, blood clots, or nerve damage. Therefore, it is essential to monitor your recovery and promptly address any potential complications closely. Your surgeon may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infections, blood thinners to prevent blood clots, and pain medications to manage discomfort.
  2. Another critical goal of post-operative care is to reduce pain and swelling. Pain and swelling are common after orthopaedic surgery and can significantly impact your recovery. Therefore, your post-operative care plan may include strategies to manage these symptoms, such as ice packs, compression bandages, and elevation of the affected limb. Your surgeon may also prescribe pain medications or recommend non-pharmacological pain management techniques, such as relaxation exercises or acupuncture.
  3. Promoting healing is another important aspect of post-operative care. After surgery, your body needs time to heal and rebuild the affected tissues. Your surgeon may recommend a specific rehabilitation plan that includes physical therapy and exercises to help you regain your range of motion, strength, and flexibility. Proper nutrition is also essential for healing. Your surgeon may recommend a diet of protein, vitamins, and minerals to support tissue repair and growth.
  4. Preventing re-injury is another crucial goal of post-operative care. Depending on the type of orthopaedic surgery, you may be at risk of re-injuring the affected area. Therefore, your surgeon may provide specific instructions on safely moving, lifting, and performing daily activities to prevent further damage. They may also recommend wearing a brace or using assistive devices, such as crutches or walkers, to protect the affected area while it heals.
  5. Finally, post-operative care is crucial for achieving the best possible outcomes from your orthopaedic surgery. The success of your surgery depends on various factors, including the type and severity of your orthopaedic condition, the type of surgery you had, and your commitment to following your post-operative care plan. Proper post-operative care can help you recover more quickly and comfortably, reduce your risk of complications, and improve your overall quality of life.


Unfortunately, Thomas’s case is an example of poor post-operative care, resulting in complications and prolonged recovery time. Even though it was recommended, Thomas’s decision not to attend physiotherapy led to muscle atrophy and stiffness, affecting his mobility and making it challenging to walk or climb stairs.
Furthermore, the decision not to attend physiotherapy meant that Thomas did not receive guidance on how to move and exercise his knee, which may have contributed to the development of the infection. As a result, Thomas had to undergo a second surgery to clean up the infected knee, which resulted in further discomfort, prolonged hospitalisation, and a slower recovery time.
The lack of guidance and monitoring after the initial surgery also meant that Thomas missed out on the opportunity to receive pain management medication, which could have helped him manage the pain and swelling associated with knee replacement surgery. It may have contributed to his decision not to attend physiotherapy, as he believed the pain medications were enough to manage it.

Compare this case with Lisa’s, who underwent hip replacement surgery and received appropriate post-operative care.
After the surgery, Lisa was provided with comprehensive post-operative care instructions and guidance on how to care for her hip, including pain management strategies and exercises to promote healing and mobility. Lisa was also referred to a physiotherapist who helped her with her rehabilitation, guiding her through exercises and stretches to improve her range of motion and reduce stiffness and pain.
In addition, Lisa’s healthcare provider regularly monitored her progress and adjusted her care plan as needed, ensuring that she received appropriate care throughout her recovery. Lisa diligently followed her care plan, attending physiotherapy appointments and following the instructions provided by her healthcare team.
As a result of the comprehensive post-operative care, Lisa’s recovery was smooth, and she could return to her daily activities with minimal pain and discomfort. The careful monitoring and support also ensured that Lisa did not experience any complications, such as infections or blood clots, which can occur after hip replacement surgery.
Furthermore, Lisa’s commitment to her post-operative care plan enabled her to achieve the best possible outcome from her surgery. She was able to regain her mobility and independence and return to doing taichi.
The contrast between these two case scenarios highlights the importance of comprehensive post-operative care and patient adherence to the care plan. When patients receive appropriate care and follow their care plan, they are more likely to have a successful recovery and avoid complications. Working closely with healthcare providers and following their instructions is essential to ensure the best possible outcomes from orthopaedic surgery.

woman practising karate.

Physiotherapy plays a critical role in post-operative care, particularly for orthopaedic surgery. After surgery, the body goes through a healing process, and physiotherapy can aid in recovery by promoting healing, improving mobility, and preventing complications.
The goal of physiotherapy in post-operative care is to restore function, reduce pain, and improve the patient’s quality of life, it is achieved through various exercises and techniques tailored to the individual’s needs and condition.
One of the primary benefits of physiotherapy in post-operative care is the prevention of complications such as stiffness and muscle atrophy. After surgery, it is common for patients to experience limited mobility, which can lead to muscle weakness and stiffness. Physiotherapy can help prevent these complications by providing exercises and stretches that help maintain mobility and to avoid muscle atrophy.
Physiotherapy can also help manage pain and swelling, common after orthopaedic surgery. Techniques such as manual therapy, massage, and TENS can help reduce pain and swelling and improve blood flow to the affected area, promoting healing.
In addition, physiotherapy can help patients regain their mobility and independence, and it is vital for orthopaedic surgeries, such as joint replacements or spinal surgery, which can significantly affect a patient’s ability to move and carry out daily activities. Through a combination of exercises and techniques, physiotherapy can help patients regain their strength and mobility, allowing them to return to their daily activities more efficiently.
Furthermore, physiotherapy can improve the patient’s overall well-being by providing support and encouragement throughout recovery. Physiotherapists can offer emotional support, answer questions, and provide guidance on the patient’s progress, helping to alleviate anxiety and stress that may accompany post-operative care.
Overall, physiotherapy is an essential component of post-operative care for orthopaedic surgery. It is crucial in promoting healing, preventing complications, managing pain and swelling, and restoring function and mobility. Patients who receive appropriate physiotherapy as part of their post-operative care are more likely to have a successful recovery and improve their quality of life.

Girl on basketball court


Jane was a 24-year-old active individual who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing basketball. After surgery, Jane was referred to a physiotherapist to begin her post-operative care and rehabilitation.
Initial Assessment and Treatment
During her first visit, the physiotherapist conducted an initial assessment to determine the extent of the injury and develop a treatment plan tailored to Jane’s needs. The physiotherapist assessed her range of motion, strength, and stability and identified areas of weakness and tightness.
Based on the assessment, the physiotherapist developed a treatment plan that included exercises and stretches to improve Jane’s range of motion and strengthen the muscles around her knee. She also guided pain management strategies and techniques to reduce swelling.
Throughout the initial treatment phase, Jane worked closely with her physiotherapist, attending regular appointments and completing her exercises at home as prescribed. As a result, she regained her range of motion and reduced her pain and swelling.
Rehabilitation Phase
The rehabilitation phase focused on strengthening and stabilising Jane’s knee to prevent further injury and improve her overall function. The physiotherapist continued working with Jane to develop a personalised treatment plan that addressed her needs and goals.
The rehabilitation phase included a range of exercises, such as squats, lunges, and step-ups, to improve Jane’s strength and stability. The physiotherapist also introduced functional exercises, such as balance training and agility drills, to help Jane regain her confidence in her knee and improve her overall performance.
Throughout this phase, Jane worked diligently with her physiotherapist, attending regular appointments and committing to her home exercises. Her hard work paid off, and she could successfully progress through her rehabilitation.
Return to Sports
The final phase of Jane’s journey with her physiotherapist was focused on returning her to her pre-injury level of function and sport. The physiotherapist worked closely with Jane to ensure she was physically and mentally prepared to return to basketball safely.
This phase included a range of exercises and drills specific to basketball, such as cutting, jumping, and pivoting. The physiotherapist also guided injury prevention strategies and techniques to help reduce the risk of future injuries.
With her physiotherapist’s support, Jane could confidently return to basketball, playing at her pre-injury level and achieving her goals.
Jane’s journey with her physiotherapist highlights the importance of physiotherapy in post-operative care and rehabilitation. With her physiotherapist’s guidance and support, Jane recovered from her ACL injury and returned to her active lifestyle. The personalised treatment plan, regular appointments, and commitment to home exercises were essential to achieving a successful outcome.


In conclusion, seeing a physiotherapist for post-operative care is crucial for patients undergoing orthopaedic surgery. Physiotherapy can help manage pain, improve mobility, prevent complications, and maximise recovery. By working with a physiotherapist, patients can receive personalised treatment plans that address their needs and goals. Physiotherapists can also provide education and support to help patients understand their recovery process and set realistic expectations.
While some patients may be tempted to skip physiotherapy appointments or do exercises on their own, it is essential to follow the guidance of a trained professional. This can help avoid further injury or complications and ensure the best possible outcome from the surgery. Patients committed to their physiotherapy programme and attending all recommended appointments are more likely to recover faster and achieve better long-term results.
If you are undergoing orthopaedic surgery, it is important to discuss your post-operative care plan with your healthcare team and inquire about the role of physiotherapy in your recovery. By incorporating physiotherapy into your post-operative care, you can take an active part in your recovery and improve your chances of returning to your normal activities as soon as possible.

Questions and Answers on all things physio
Why do orthopaedic surgeons refer patients to physiotherapy?
  • Pre-surgery physiotherapy: Physiotherapy before orthopaedic surgery helps prepare the patient’s body for the upcoming procedure. It aims to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion, enhancing surgical outcomes, promoting faster recovery, and reducing the risk of complications.
  • Post-surgery physiotherapy: Physiotherapy after surgery is crucial for optimising recovery and restoring function. It helps manage pain, reduce swelling, improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and promote proper movement patterns. Physiotherapy is vital in regaining functional abilities and returning to daily activities.
  • Faster recovery: Physiotherapy can lead to a quicker and more successful recovery. The structured exercises, manual techniques, and guidance physiotherapists promote tissue healing, prevent stiffness and muscle weakness, and ensure a safe return to normal activities.
  • Pain management: Physiotherapy techniques such as manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and modalities can effectively manage post-operative pain. By addressing pain early on, physiotherapy helps patients minimise their reliance on pain medications and regain function with reduced discomfort.
  • Preventing complications: Physiotherapy aids in preventing post-operative complications such as joint stiffness, muscle weakness, and postural imbalances. Targeted exercises and techniques assist in maintaining joint mobility, improving circulation, and preventing the formation of scar tissue.
  • Individualised care: Physiotherapy is tailored to each patient’s specific needs. To develop a personalised treatment plan, the physiotherapist assesses the patient’s condition, surgical procedure, and progress. This individualised approach optimises rehabilitation for the patient’s unique circumstances.
  • Patient education: Physiotherapy sessions provide valuable education on post-operative precautions, proper body mechanics, and exercises patients can perform at home; they empower patients to actively participate in their recovery actively, enabling better long-term outcomes and a reduced risk of re-injury.

In summary, physiotherapy is essential in orthopaedic surgical care as it accelerates recovery, improves functional outcomes, manages pain, prevents complications, and empowers patients to participate actively in rehabilitation. It is a valuable component of the comprehensive treatment plan to optimise patients’ recovery and overall well-being.

FAQ from patients regarding physiotherapy
  • How soon should a patient start seeing a physiotherapist ahead of surgery?

It is beneficial for patients to start seeing a physiotherapist 2-4 weeks before surgery; it allows time for assessment, pre-operative conditioning, and education on post-operative exercises and precautions.

  • How many sessions of physiotherapy are required?

The number of sessions varies depending on the surgery and the patient’s needs. Patients attend physiotherapy sessions 1-2 times weekly for 4-6 weeks pre-surgery. The physiotherapist will assess progress and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

  • What entails a physiotherapy session?

A physiotherapy session may include exercises to improve strength, flexibility, mobility, and manual therapy techniques to address soft tissue tightness and joint mobility. Education on post-operative care, pain management, and proper movement patterns is also provided.

  • Is physiotherapy claimable through insurance?

Physiotherapy may be claimable through insurance, depending on the policy. Patients should seek clearance with their insurance provider regarding coverage details, including pre-authorisation requirements and limits on the number of sessions covered.

  • What are the benefits of pre-surgery physiotherapy?

Pre-surgery physiotherapy aims to improve overall physical fitness, strength, and range of motion. It can enhance surgical outcomes, accelerate post-operative recovery, and reduce the risk of complications. Pre-surgery physiotherapy also helps patients understand and actively participate in their recovery process.

  • Post-surgery, when is the best time to start seeing the physiotherapist?

Once the surgeon approves, patients typically start seeing a physiotherapist within a few days to a week after surgery. The physiotherapist will assess the patient’s condition and determine the appropriate timing for post-operative rehabilitation.

  • How many post-surgery physiotherapy sessions are required?

The number of post-surgery physiotherapy sessions varies depending on the type of surgery and the patient’s progress. Patients usually attend 2-3 weekly sessions for 6–12 weeks. The treatment plan is tailored to the individual’s needs and adjusted as recovery progresses.

  • How do post-surgery physiotherapy sessions help in recovery?

Post-surgery physiotherapy sessions focus on pain management, restoring range of motion, regaining strength, improving balance and coordination, and facilitating a safe return to daily activities. The sessions promote tissue healing, prevent complications, and optimise functional recovery through targeted exercises, manual therapy, and patient education.

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