Knee Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery

June 1, 2015

Recovering From a Knee Replacement Surgery: What You Should Expect


According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 90% of people who have a knee replacement experience a significant decrease in pain. If you suffer from chronic knee pain or arthritis of the knee, knee replacement surgery may improve your quality of life.

Every patient undergoing knee replacement surgery recovery responds differently during the process. Anywhere between four and seven weeks to walk with minimal assistance is considered normal. If it takes longer than that, or your quality of life is being affected by pain, talk to your doctor.

You can help accelerate your recovery by actively participating in the process, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and complying with your doctor’s orders.

What to Expect Immediately After Surgery
Most knee replacement recipients spend one to three days in the hospital. In the hospital, a surgical drain will be inserted for at least 24 hours to prevent accumulation of fluid at the surgical site. Before being discharged, you must be able to accomplish the following:

  • Get in and out of bed independently
  • Eat, drink, and use the bathroom without assistance
  • Walk with the assistance of a walker, crutch, or cane
  • Have the ability to perform physician-approved exercises at home

It is normal for knee replacement patients to experience mild to moderate swelling three to six months after surgery. Elevating the leg, applying ice, or wearing compression stockings can relieve swelling.

Immediately report swelling that occurs prior to rising in the morning, or that isaccompanied by leg pain, to your doctor. This may be a warning sign of an infection or a blood clot.

Prepping Your Home for Recovery
Preventing even the smallest injury during knee replacement surgery recovery is vital to ensuring the knee heals properly. Taking minor precautions can greatly minimize the possibility of additional pain.

  • Arrange furniture in a configuration that accommodates the use of a walking assistance device
  • Remove area or throw rugs, especially those on tiled or wood floors
  • Make plans to sleep downstairs if your bedroom is upstairs
  • Install a grip bar and shower chair so you can safely take a shower independently
  • Keep excitable pets far away from your recovery area
  • Restrict play time with your small children to stationary activities that won’t jostle your knee

Depending on the treatment plan developed by your doctor, you may need additional assistance at home, especially if you live alone. Discharge planners will discuss your options – such as extended in-home care and safety modifications to your home – with you and your insurance company.

Physical Therapy After Knee Replacement Surgery
Physical therapy is a vital tool in your recovery from knee replacement surgery and can begin as early as the day of surgery. Depending on your condition post-surgery, you may be sent straight home with plans for outpatient rehabilitation. Sometimes a patient is sent straight to a rehabilitation facility.

If you are sent to a rehabilitation center, the average expected stay is seven to ten days. If you are sent home, a physical therapist will usually be sent to your home for the first few weeks of treatment.

When you are able to walk with assistance, your physical therapy may move to an outpatient facility. Physical therapy after knee replacement surgery can last between one and two months, depending on your recovery time. Your physical therapist will give you exercises such as quad sets, dangles, leg extension, and straight leg raises to perform at home.

It is very important to complete all exercises given by your physical therapist, even if your knee feels better. Cutting treatment short can cut your range of motion short. Remember that every patient’s situation is unique and a timeline of recovery and rehabilitation will be decided on an individual basis with the collaboration of your surgeon and physical therapist.

Avoiding Complications
Complications are unlikely, but possible after undergoing knee replacement surgery. Following your doctor’s orders and attending all physical therapy sessions are the two best ways to prevent complications. Take steps to prevent these common complications:

Infection at the Site of the Incision
Your risk of infection can be mitigated through the correct usage of preventative antibiotics and by following wound care instructions given to you by your doctor. You will need to wear a dressing on your knee for seven to ten days after surgery. You can still take showers by placing a plastic bag or wrap around the dressing.

Severe Knee Stiffness
After knee replacement surgery, do not twist, kneel, squat, or pivot. These movements can dislocate your new knee joint. When lying in bed, keep your knee as straight as possible. Use pillows to stabilize your leg during the night. Combined with strict adherence to your prescribed physical therapy, this should keep your stiffness to a minimum.

Blood Clots
Your risk of developing blood clots is highest during the first two weeks after surgery. Your doctor will likely prescribe a blood thinner (baby aspirin) regimen for up to five weeks after surgery. Elevation of the leg also helps blood flow and can prevent blood clots, so prop your leg up with pillows while you rest. Discuss your risk of blood clots with your surgeon, keeping in mind that you are at greater risk for blood clots if you smoke or suffer from obesity.

Keep appointments with your doctor and notify the hospital immediately if you suspect something is wrong with your knee replacement surgery recovery. This will help lessen the risk of suffering severe complications.

To learn more about the benefits of knee replacement surgery, please contact the Arkansas Surgical Hospital to set up a consultation with one of our experienced orthopedic surgeons at (877) 918-7020.

*Photo via Steven Depolo through Flickr

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