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Many people are having knee replacement surgery at a younger age and many are still in the workforce. If you are contemplating TKR and you are still working, you will have concerns about your job such as:
- How much time will I need to take off of work?
- When can I expect to return to work?
The answers to these two questions depend on the kind of work you do, where you do your work (home, office, on your feet), as well as your health and the physical condition that you are in prior to your TKR surgery.
Everyone wants a speedy, uncomplicated recovery but that’s not always the case. After TKR, rest and physical therapy should be of the utmost importance for a successful recovery.
You will have a lot of downtime, but if you use your time wisely and work hard at your recovery, you will be able to return to work in a reasonable amount of time, barring any unforeseen complications.
In this article, I’ll share my preparation for surgery and my recovery experience.
Knee Replacement While Working Versus In Retirement (pros and cons)
As I mentioned in previous articles, I waited until retirement to have knee replacement surgery. As a retired educator, I often wondered during my recovery when I would have been able to return to my job if I had been working.
Sure, I could have spent the majority of my day working in my office but I always made it a priority to be out and about on campus.
I remember forty plus years ago as a young teacher going back into the classroom a week after meniscus surgery. I was on crutches for six weeks with a soft cast. That was no fun at all.
I feel like I could have been back to work as a principal after TKR in about 6 weeks. I would have spent the majority of my time seated but would have had to take breaks to take regular short walks and then also to ice my knee at my desk (read my article about the best ice packs for knee replacement).
The big challenge would have been finding time to do my therapy and exercise. Knowing what I know now I am thankful I had my TKR surgery in retirement.
I was able to focus all my time and energy on my recovery and it was easy to make my knee my first priority. I have a friend who had her TKR surgery while still working.
She went back to work at her office job after six weeks. She said it was not easy, she had to get up from her desk to take frequent walks and that she even elevated her leg at her work site.
She was also quick to point out that her time devoted to therapy and rehab suffered because she was tired when she came home from work and she did not devote the same amount of time to her rehab that she had been doing before returning to work.
Some Questions to Think About if you are Still Working
If you are still working you will have several decisions to make concerning your job and TKR.
- When is the best time to have surgery (spring, summer, fall or winter)? A certain season may be slower than usual at work or a certain time may be during an annual vacation.
- When is the best time for my employer, my business or myself to be away from work?
- When can I return to work, part-time and or full-time?
- Will I get paid while I am off of work?
- Should I schedule the surgery during my vacation time?
- Will my health insurance cover the medical and physical therapy expense?
- Will I be able to continue physical therapy and a personal exercise program after my workday is complete (read about my physical therapy experience)?
- Will my recovery be better if I am fit before my surgery?
- Will losing some weight and being fit before surgery help me to return to work sooner?
Some Possible Answers to the Above Questions (Make Sure Your Ask Your Doctor)
As I have mentioned in earlier articles, I believe the best time to have TKR is in the spring or in the fall because I would want to avoid extremely hot or cold weather. If I had still been working I would have had the surgery in late May as soon as school was out.
The weather would be great for getting outside and exercising, plus it would be summer break and as an educator, I would have the time off (obviously the slow time for educators). If I had had my TKR during summer break I would have received my regular check.
If you are still working and go beyond vacation days, check with your employer to make sure your benefits include full or partial pay. Maybe there is a slow time in your business or a time when you can combine vacation and holidays for your surgery.
Worker’s Compensation might also be an option during your time off.
The high cost of TKR surprised me, but what was more surprising was that my Medicare paid for all the costs of TKR and the therapy following the surgery (about $35,000.00). If you can stand the pain until you receive Medicare benefits you may want to put the surgery off until you qualify.
If not, check your health insurance before surgery and find out what the cost will be for you.
In my case, physical therapy and my personal exercise program were the keys to my recovery. If you go back to work, make sure you have time for formal therapy (lasted 7 weeks for me) and additional time to exercise regularly after formal therapy is over.
Home equipment (stationary bike, etc.) is helpful and should be considered as a supplemental exercise option. Here is the equipment I recommend.
If you’re in good physical condition before surgery and you keep your body weight under control, your recovery will be easier and you might be able to return to work sooner than expected. In previous articles, I mentioned that I made exercise and strength training a big part of my day before surgery.
I worked hard at my physical therapy after surgery. I am convinced that the hard work paid off and that if I had still been working, I would have returned to work in a reasonable time.
After Knee Replacement, When Can I Plan On Returning To Work?
When could I have gone back to work?
I believe that I could have resumed my duties as a school principal 4 to 6 weeks after TKR on a limited basis. I would have had to adapt my schedule to spend most of my time in the office where I could elevate and ice my knee 3 to 5 times a day.
Short walks to visit classrooms and the playground would have been okay. I could have done some flexion and extension exercises in my office while I worked.
My duties included several after school and evening meetings and activities that I would have had to ask the assistant principal to cover for several weeks. This would have allowed me to leave early enough to continue my physical therapy. This is why I would have opted to have the surgery during school vacation.
If I had been working at a job that was physically demanding and that I had to be continually on my feet, I’d estimate it would be more like 4 months before returning to full-time work.
If you can work from home or arrange a part-time transition back to work you may able to get back to work even sooner.
Remember that it may take you some time before you can drive, especially if the surgery is on your right knee. Returning to work might mean that you will need someone else to drive you to and from work.
More people than ever before are having TKR. Many younger people who are still working are having TKR too.
When you have TKR once you have retired, it is much easier to devote your time to rehab and recovery. You may be younger and still be working. You may even have children at home.
The more commitments and distractions you have the harder it is to make the recovery process from TKR a priority. TKR will definitely improve the quality of your life.
When you decide to have the surgery it is an important and very personal decision and when you can return to work after TKR depends on you. Listen to your body and don’t return to work too soon.
Don’t shortchange yourself by cutting back or eliminating physical therapy and exercise. Prepare your body before surgery so you have a better chance for a speedy recovery.
I hope this article has helped you answer some of the questions you may have as you consider TKR while you are still in the workforce. Thanks for reading my blog.