With any surgery, there are risks involved, so it’s not something anyone should jump into lightly. With this in mind, we have compiled a list of six things to consider regarding the ins and outs of surgery. Embarking on surgery can be anxiety-provoking for even the calmest among us. We hope our blog will help to put your mind at rest and to prepare you as best as possible for the road to surgery that may lie ahead.  

How do I know if my pain is ‘bad enough’ to warrant surgery?” 

Many individuals can effectively manage their arthritis with medication and lifestyle interventions such as ensuring you maintain a healthy weight, exercising regularly and looking after your joints. However, if these options have been exhausted and if your pain is getting worse and/or your quality of life and your independence are being impacted, then surgery may be explored. Your healthcare team is there to give their expert advice, but it is you, ultimately, who must make the final decision. The benefits of surgery should be a reduction in pain and increased mobility. Surgery can also prevent joints from deteriorating further and prevent disability. For many people, surgery is the right decision, in terms of reducing their pain and improving their mobility which, in turn, substantially improves their quality of life.  

“Some people suggest that I put it off for a few years – is this wise?” 

The timing of your surgery should be discussed with your healthcare team, as it can be a complex decision based on a multitude of factors. It is important to remember that although you may be referred for surgery, there may be a period of waiting time before you have your operation. Therefore, if you and your healthcare team feel that you may be suitable for surgery, it is best to consider your options sooner than later. If your mobility has decreased significantly, it is important to speak to your doctor to advise of a change in your circumstances. Surgery can involve operations outside of the joint, such as on ligaments, tendons or nodules, or it can involve operating on the joint itself, which can be total or partial joint replacement. Most modern artificial joints can last for 15 years, but some can last longer than 20 years. However, as life expectancy continues to increase, your age at surgery may be a determining factor in whether or not a second replacement will be required in the future.  

“Is it a good idea to try to improve my fitness prior to surgery?” 

Yes is the simple answer. It may be the last thing that you feel like but keeping as active as possible in the weeks leading up to your surgery (and hopefully even before that) will benefit most people in terms of recovery post-surgery. When you’re waiting for surgery, particularly if you’re waiting a long time, you can feel powerless, anxious, or just plain eager to get it done and out the other side. But there are things that you can do to help both your mindset, and also your chances of a better recovery. For instance, improved fitness levels allow your body to cope better with the physical stress of surgery and will reduce your chances of complications. Chair exercises can be a fantastic option for those with mobility issues  – see our online Take Control with Exercise programme and follow and watch videos designed by a chartered physiotherapist. If you are able to walk, try our 6-week walking plan.  Download an app onto your phone to stay motivated, or consider enlisting a friend to walk with you – it’s such a great way to catch up and socialise whilst also fitting in a good brisk walk that will help your body to become fitter for the surgery. In terms of your mental wellbeing, it’s important to normalise feeling anxious – most people will feel anxious before any type of surgery. Staying active or engaging in a hobby you enjoy can make a real difference, particularly as your brain gets to focus on something different for a while. If you need some inspiration, read our blog on hobbies here. 

“How Important is weight loss (relevant to those with overweight/obesity)?” 

Controlling your weight is often the most effective thing you can do to reduce the symptoms of arthritis as it reduces stress on your joints. Overweight or obesity can increase the risk of complications during surgery, such as breathing problems, blood clots, infections, slower recovery and longer hospital stays. Your surgeon may have already advised that you lose weight but, if you want to check for yourself, the easiest way is to measure your waist. All you need to do is place a tape measure about one inch above your bellybutton. Make sure it’s pulled tight, but isn’t digging into your skin, and then breathe out naturally, taking your measurement. Use the following guide to assess where you sit on the risk scale:  

Waist measurement for  

At increased risk  

At high risk 


94cm (37 inches)   

102cm (40 inches)   


80cm (32 inches)   

88cm (35 inches)   


The good news is that, for most people, losing even a little weight before the operation will help reduce your risk of complications. Find out where to start (including how to read food labels for sugar) here. 

“What can I do to help manage my pre-op nerves?” 

Talking to your family and close friends about your anxious feelings can really help. To help allay your fears, you could ring our helpline (0818 252 846), where you will have access to others who have experienced arthritis and the challenges that it poses. Try to be as honest and open as possible regarding your fears and anxieties surrounding your impending surgery. The chances are that, like with most worries, saying them out loud can help relieve the burden and, by replacing negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones, you are likely to feel significantly better. There are also practical things you can do, such as using a meditation app or breathing exercises – have a read of our blog, 10 Tips to Dial Down Stress for ideas. Try to strike a healthy balance between informing yourself about your surgery beforehand and thinking about what will happen afterwards. It may be helpful to plan to have help or support from family or a carer post-surgery depending on your circumstances. You may also need to consider having certain equipment in your home such as chair raiser or handrails. If you expect to be off work for a significant period of time, financial planning will put you in control.  

“How long should my recovery take (roughly)?” 

Typically, an individual will spend 2-3 nights in hospital after joint replacement surgery. In terms of work, most patients are advised to take two weeks off. However, manual workers may need up to three months or even longer depending on the nature of their work. The pace of recovery from then on very much depends on the age, current fitness level and overall general health of the individual and can take anywhere from between six weeks and six months. If the patient’s fitness is good prior to surgery, then that recovery time will shorten.  

For example, if you are about to undergo knee surgery, strengthening the quads prior to surgery can be beneficial. Similarly, if you will be required to use crutches post-surgery, strengthening your arms and carrying less weight will make this much easier during the recovery phase. Getting the balance right is key. A physiotherapist will guide you on how to exercise the joint post-surgery.