Recovering from knee replacement surgery
Although every patient recovers differently, here are some of the things you may expect in the days, weeks, and months following knee replacement surgery.
Immediately following surgery
Your orthopaedic surgeon, nurses, and physical therapists will closely monitor your recovery progress.
Most knee replacement patients are encouraged to walk with assistance, such as a cane, walker, or crutches, on a level surface and climb up and down two or three stairs within one to four days after surgery or before discharge from the hospital.2
Once you’ve been moved to a regular hospital room, the physical therapist will recommend certain exercises for your replaced knee.
Initially, activity will cause discomfort, so your care team may recommend pain medication prior to physical therapy. Gradually, your pain medication will be reduced, the IV will be removed, your diet will progress to solids, and you will become increasingly mobile.
Your physical therapist will talk with you about how to continue your progress after your hospital stay. They will also go over exercises to help improve your mobility.
An occupational therapist may show you how to best perform daily activities, such as putting on socks, reaching for household items, and bathing.
A case manager will discuss plans for your return home to help ensure you have all the necessary support for your recovery.
Once you get home
In the weeks following surgery, certain limitations are placed on every patient’s activities. Using a cane or walker may be necessary for several weeks.
Call your doctor to report or discuss any concerns.
Ask your doctor about how to care for the wound.
Ask your doctor about any unusual symptoms that you should look out for after surgery. This may include, but is not limited to, pain in your leg unrelated to your incision, persistent fever, severe swelling, or drainage from the wound.
Movement is essential to a healthy recovery. Once light activity becomes possible, it’s important to incorporate healthy exercise into your recovery program. Recommended activities include gradually increased walking and light household activities, such as climbing stairs. Work with your physical therapist to determine what’s right for you.
Life after total knee replacement
After the initial recovery from surgery, most people can resume normal routine activities within the first 3 to 6 weeks of their total knee replacement.1 When fully recovered, the majority of individuals who have joint replacement surgery experience a reduction in joint pain and an improvement in their ability to participate in daily activities.3
It’s important to know that knee replacement surgery will not allow you to do more than you could before joint problems developed. Also, athletic activities that place excessive stress on the replaced joint, such as basketball, distance running, contact sports or frequent jumping, should be avoided. Your doctor will work with you to determine the most appropriate level of activity for you.
- Marecek GS, Schafer MF. Driving after orthopaedic surgery. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2013;21(11):696-706
- AAOS. Activities after knee replacement. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/activities-after-knee-replacement/ Accessed 7 Feb 2019.
- AAOS. Before and after total joint replacement. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/before-and-after-total-joint-replacement-video/. Accessed 12 November 2018
Total knee replacement is intended for use in individuals with joint disease resulting from degenerative, rheumatoid and post-traumatic arthritis, and for moderate deformity of the knee.
Knee replacement surgery is not appropriate for patients with certain types of infections, any mental or neuromuscular disorder which would create an unacceptable risk of prosthesis instability, prosthesis fixation failure or complications in postoperative care, compromised bone stock, skeletal immaturity, severe instability of the knee, or excessive body weight.
As with any surgery, knee replacement surgery has serious risks which include, but are not limited to, pain, infection, bone fracture, peripheral neuropathies (nerve damage), circulatory compromise (including deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs)), genitourinary disorders (including kidney failure), gastrointestinal disorders (including paralytic ileus (loss of intestinal digestive movement)), vascular disorders (including thrombus (blood clots), blood loss, or changes in blood pressure or heart rhythm), bronchopulmonary disorders (including emboli, stroke or pneumonia), heart attack, and death.
Implant related risks which may lead to a revision include dislocation, loosening, fracture, nerve damage, heterotopic bone formation (abnormal bone growth in tissue), wear of the implant, metal and/or foreign body sensitivity, soft tissue imbalance, osteolysis (localized progressive bone loss), and reaction to particle debris. Knee implants may not provide the same feel or performance characteristics experienced with a normal healthy joint.
The information presented is for educational purposes only. Speak to your doctor to decide if joint replacement surgery is right for you. Individual results vary and not all patients will return to the same postoperative activity level. The lifetime of any joint replacement is limited and varies with each individual. Your doctor will counsel you about how to best maintain your activities in order to potentially prolong the lifetime of the device. Such strategies include not engaging in high-impact activities, such as running, as well as maintaining a healthy weight. It is important to closely follow your doctor’s instructions regarding post-surgery activity, treatment and follow-up care. Ask your doctor if the joint replacement is right for you.
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