This is one of the most common questions asked of both patients in our little outpatient orthopedic clinic and through the question sections in our blogs. This question is, of course, broad, and the answer depends on a myriad of variables. The answer in short is… probably longer than you were told.
Here is our guide of variables to take into account when answering this question!
1. Let me start by saying that we do love orthopedic surgeons. Without them, countless people would lose total function of a shoulder, a leg, or worse. Their training in highly complex techniques is amazing to say the least. Medicine, however, tends to be highly compartmentalized. Once the surgery is done, the patient is often turned over to physical therapy with the assurance that “you will be back to normal in no time.” In many cases, this is not a particularly responsible thing to say. One of the first things that I will tell a new post-operative patient is to get a set time frame of recovery out of your mind.
2. If you are young (under thirty-five years of age or so), your recovery is likely to be on the shorter side of the spectrum. As we age, the cells that perform reparative work become smaller in size and less effective.
3. If you notice small improvements in strength, range of motion, or function from week to week or month to month, things are going well. You are getting there.
4. The more fit that you are, the more likely you are to do well after surgery. Deconditioning, obesity, diabetes, and other diagnoses unfortunately add to recovery times.
5. There is a big difference between regaining function versus returning to sports or other high-level activities. While many people will be walking around with little to no pain four to eight weeks after meniscal surgery, it may take up to six months or more before you can return to running. Temper your expectations.
6. Having a functional deadline (such as “I need to run a marathon in June”) will very often lengthen recovery time rather than shorten it. There is often a potential to over-work the effected limb due to a sense of urgency, which can, of course, lead to inflammation and frustration associated with setbacks.
In short, there are no set guarantees with surgical recoveries. The key is to realize that there are many factors at play. Ask your PT and doctor to be as honest as possible in regards to your prognosis, and listen to what your body is telling you!