Definition & Overview

Whenever the body experiences a traumatic injury and undergoes a serious surgical procedure to treat the condition, a period of recovery and rehabilitation is always required. It is not enough that the body heals from surgery, but it is also important that the patient regains the use of his limbs and joints so that his mobility will not be affected as he recovers.

Post-operative rehabilitation is crucial particularly after certain orthopedic procedures that involve the joints as these affect the person’s ability to move. Many types of treatment are designed depending on the needs of the patient and the rehabilitation period varies from months to years depending on several factors including the extent of the damage and the patient’s ability to recover quickly.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

As mentioned above, post-operative mobility rehabilitation is typically recommended to patients who have undergone specific types of orthopedic procedures such as the following:

  • Total joint replacement – Joints get broken for a variety of reasons. Some of them break due to injury or an accident. Some of them weaken and become damaged due to a chronic disease like arthritis. Total joint replacement is recommended if other treatment options like medications and therapy no longer produce the expected results and replacement of the joints with artificial devices is the only way to restore natural movement.

  • Shoulder joint replacement – The shoulder joint is another body part that breaks down due to inevitable wear-and-tear. The cartilage that protects the bones in the shoulder from rubbing against each other becomes thin over time. This causes friction in the bones resulting in pain and decreased mobility in the shoulder.

  • Hip replacement – The hip is the body’s largest ball and socket joint. As such, it is prone to arthritic diseases, like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis that may require hip replacement as a treatment when the hipbones and cartilage become damaged due to injury or wear and tear.

  • Wrist and ankle replacement

How Does the Procedure Work?

When a patient undergoes any of the above-mentioned surgical procedures, the tendency is for the body to remain at rest while recovering. However, though the patient is expected to minimize pressure and to reduce activities that involve the treated part for the first phase of recovery, it is also recommended that the patient begins to move around to restore blood circulation and normalize body functions.

However, once the surgical wounds heal and the muscles get stronger, the time will come when the restoration of the body’s normal functions, like movement and balance, will be a priority. Post-operative mobility rehabilitation is the next step in the process. The purpose is to regain mobility, prevent muscle atrophy and to develop muscle strength and endurance as much as possible.

It is essential to proceed immediately with post-operative mobility consultations following surgery so that full recovery will be achieved quicker. Here are some things that patients can expect from this procedure:

  • A thorough physical examination is often the first step in evaluating the kind of post-operative mobility program that is suitable for the patient. The doctor is likely to test the range of movement, muscle strength, balance and stability.
  • A treatment plan may be devised with recommended goals, targeted priority areas and expected outcomes.
  • A follow-up schedule is also planned out.

A complete post-operative mobility program requires the expertise of a team of doctors, physical therapists, and nutritionists to create a holistic approach to recovery. The program will include:

  • Pain management – One of the common concerns when recovering from a major surgery is pain. Patients may be debilitated by it and thus, cannot immediately find the energy to heal themselves. Pain may be treated with medication, immobilizing gear (to restrict activity) and gentle massages. Other patients may also opt for alternative therapies like acupuncture.

  • Home exercise guidelines – Initially, while the patient is still healing in the comfort of his own home, some simple exercise guidelines will be established so that he can start getting back on track with his recovery. This may involve varying stretching exercises as well as weight training and muscle strengthening. Other exercises are required for range of motion development, like repetitive ankle pumps (moving up and down with your ankle) or making different types of fists for hand flexibility. The doctor and therapist will formulate the best exercise protocols based on the assessed physical condition of the patient.

  • Physical therapy/rehabilitation – The purpose of physical therapy and rehabilitation is to make sure that the patient improves his physical condition after surgery by improving mobility, reducing pain and restoring full normal body functions. There are many types of therapy being offered depending on the needs of the patient. There’s aquatic or water therapy for patients who need to minimize pressure on their joints but needs to develop an overall muscle tone. Regular land therapy allows the patient to participate in therapeutic activities designed to restore function after surgery.

  • Nutritional program – A full diet and nutritional program will provide the support needed to keep the body healthy and sustained in the rigorous recovery process. The body needs essential vitamins and minerals to repair broken muscles and tissue. The nutritional program also sets up a healthier lifestyle for the patient’s continued recovery.

Possible Risks and Complications

Post-operative mobility rehabilitation offers a long list of benefits and does not typically result in risks or complications. It is expected that the patient will gradually regain strength and function. However, the goals of the procedure can only be achieved if the patient is fully committed to the program.


  • The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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