Returning To Work After Orthopaedic Surgery

Preparation starts even before the surgery

(NC)—Surgery to restore mobility to a painful and uncooperative joint is a welcome relief – even more so when pain and immobility has meant time off work and decrease in household income. For working people who require surgery to their bones and joints, the preparation for a full return to work starts before the surgery happens.

“People know their jobs best,” says Dr. Stewart Wright, orthopaedic surgeon at Sunnybrook’s Holland Orthopaedic and Arthritic Centre and medical and scientific review committee chair at the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation. “The more descriptive our patients can be, the better able we are to help them achieve results that make the best sense for them, and to help them understand expectations and how long recovery will take. That way, people can make appropriate arrangements for time off work, and have a reasonable back-to-work plan.”

Prior to surgery, it’s important for your orthopaedic surgeon to have an accurate diagnosis, but equally important to understand how your troublesome joint is affecting your daily life. “Sometimes there isn’t much choice in the type of operation to fix a particular problem,” says Dr. Wright, “but other times there are options. Knowing what a patient hopes to accomplish with surgery, and how quickly, can make a big difference in their treatment, recovery, return to work and a host of other factors.”

Here are some questions to identify important things to share with your surgeon:

•    What type of work do you do? Consider the time you spend at a desk, standing for long periods, driving, walking to the bus, climbing stairs, lifting items and their weight. Map out your day from the time you wake up and let your surgeon know how often you rely on your troublesome joint.

•    Can you afford to be off-work and for how long? Many people don’t have the benefits of short- or long-term pay for health-related work absences. Knowing that a quick return to work is important to you and your household helps a surgeon determine a suitable recovery plan.

•    Will your employer accept a graduated return to work? Many employers, especially those with roles requiring physical labour, will work with an employee following surgery to return to a role that is less physically demanding. Fully understanding your options is important so you can plan for your best possible recovery while still getting back to work as soon as you can.

Following surgery, the greatest gains in function typically happen in the first three months. But patients will continue to improve, and need to realize that a full recovery can take up to one year. Learning and planning ahead helps to avoid disappointing surprises later.

A resource offered by the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation helps new patients learn from someone who’s been there. The Ortho Connect peer support program matches people referred for orthopaedic surgery with a volunteer patient who has been through the same type of procedure. Ortho Connect volunteers help people to feel confident and informed by providing support, guidance and an understanding ear when waiting for surgery or throughout rehabilitation. Find out more at or by calling 1-800-461-3639.