This is the first installment in a three-part series about short-term rehabilitation at skilled nursing care centers. In this article, we introduce you to a woman who successfully recovered from two knee replacement surgeries, and explain the different types of therapy services.

By Sallie Gowan

These days, 82-year-old Hazel Griffin gets her exercise at a walking trail, but she is enthusiastic about a few weeks of “two-a-day” workouts she completed not long ago.

No, she didn’t embed herself with the local high school football team for training camp. Instead, she did two workouts a day during short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center.

After two knee replacement surgeries, she credits short-term rehab for the ability to enjoy many of her activities today, starting with 2½ to 3 miles of walking every week.

“You have to have good knees to walk,” she said. Or to wear pretty shoes with “a little bit of a heel.”

In the United States, surgeons replace more than a million hips and knees every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And, in every case, surgery is followed by rehabilitation so patients can get back to their active lives as quickly as possible.

When you are preparing for joint replacement surgery, your decisions about rehabilitation are a critical step to get where you want to go – whether your goal is working in the yard, attending church or dancing at your daughter’s wedding.

Defining the Types of Therapy and Rehab Settings

Rehabilitation after joint replacement surgery is generally concentrated in two main areas. Physical therapy, or PT, is focused on using the new joint properly for things such as walking, getting in and out of bed, standing up and sitting down, and climbing stairs. Whereas occupational therapy, or OT, is aimed at building upper body strength (which helps with using a walker or cane) and what are called “activities of daily living” – such as dressing yourself or loading a washing machine.

Even something as ordinary as putting on socks requires special consideration following joint replacement surgery. After a hip replacement, for example, patients are cautioned not to bend forward at the waist too sharply in order to protect the healing joint.

Rehabilitation begins immediately after surgery, and there are several options to consider when deciding how to continue that process after you leave the acute care hospital. Potential rehabilitation settings include:

  • Home Health – A therapist comes to your home, typically two or three times a week for approximately 45 minutes each visit. There are usually exercises and stretches to do on your own on other days.
  • Outpatient – You go to a therapist’s office, generally two to three times a week, for sessions lasting 30 minutes to an hour apiece. There are usually exercises and stretches to do at home between appointments, and you are responsible for transportation to and from appointments.
  • Short-term rehab at a skilled nursing care center – You stay overnight for intensive therapy, both physical therapy and occupational therapy. A total of two to three hours a day of therapy can be expected, six or seven days a week. After joint replacement, stays can typically range from one to three weeks.

Short-term rehab is available at skilled nursing care centers in all of Alabama’s 67 counties. Griffin serves on the city council in Andalusia, a municipality with almost 10,000 residents located just north of the Alabama-Florida line.

“I knew the physical therapist at Andalusia Manor would get me walking,” she remembered. “It’s going to hurt some; you know that before you go. He told me in the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Her choice of a hometown provider worked out well for her – and her constituents. You see, Griffin had advocated tirelessly for improvements to River Falls Road, and the repaving project was completed shortly after her first knee surgery.

“They were not going to open the road without me,” Griffin said. She interrupted her two-a-days at rehab for one official duty. Standing with the aid of a walker and support from grinning policemen at both elbows, she cut the ribbon on the newly resurfaced roadway. Then it was back to the gym for more physical therapy.

Editor’s Note: Sallie Gowan is a freelance writer based in Montgomery, Ala.