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Postoperative Care After Knee Replacement Surgery: What to Expect

Knee replacement surgery is a very effective treatment for severe knee pain. The procedure involves replacing the damaged or diseased joint surfaces of the knee with prosthetic (artificial) components, thus relieving pain and improving knee function.

There are different types of knee replacement surgeries, depending on the extent of damage to the knee.

The operation is generally performed under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision in the skin over the knee and then carefully detaches the muscles and ligaments around the knee joint. The damaged joint surfaces are then removed and replaced with prosthetic components.

After surgery, you will be taken to a recovery room where you will be closely monitored. At this point, pain and discomfort can be controlled with medication. Physical therapy is also an important part of your recovery, and you will likely start this soon after surgery.

Most people stay in the hospital for three to five days after surgery, and the total recovery time is usually around six to eight weeks. Here’s what you can expect immediately after surgery and in the weeks that follow.

What happens after knee replacement surgery?

You’ll be up and walking a few hours after surgery. Patients who get up and bear some weight on the new knee shortly after surgery recover faster than those who don’t. The more you move and the sooner you start, the more successful your recovery will be.

The process begins with staff-assisted baby steps to and from the bathroom and walker-assisted mini-walks in your room. Within 24 hours, you’ll meet with a physical therapist (PT) who will guide you through a series of exercises. “Use it or lose it” is the guiding principle here.

“When patients start researching joint replacement, most are surprised to learn that it’s a process involving both surgery and rehab,” says Shelley Wichmann, PT, a physical therapist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “Joint replacement surgery isn’t a quick fix.”

Dr. Christian Eccles is a hip and knee replacement surgeon in Conway, SC. He agrees that “therapy is vital to obtaining the best functional outcome possible after a knee replacement.”

Physical therapy is challenging yet gentle. The exercises are not strenuous or painful. If you perform your PT workouts exactly as instructed, your range of motion will slowly but surely expand. You’ll be surprised, thrilled and delighted with the results.

When will I get my life back?

Most knee-replacement patients are discharged from the hospital a few days after surgery. The first few weeks are the hardest. You’ll need crutches or a walker to get around.

Here’s what to expect:

  • One month: By the end of 30 days, you’ll be driving, performing routine chores at home and running errands. In most cases, you’ll be back at work.
  • Two months: After 60 days, you can go swimming and take longer walks. Physical therapy workouts can be supplemented with beginners’ yoga stretches and tai chi movements.
  • Three months: After 90 days, you can start jogging, ride your bike, play tennis and go skiing.

A good physical therapy workout should be challenging, but not so difficult that you become discouraged. Begin workouts slowly, proceed cautiously and work your way up. Establish a baseline for each exercise and increase the reps by small increments whenever you can.

How much will it hurt?

Knee replacements are more painful than hip replacements. Nevertheless, as the knee heals and you feel stronger, pain levels can decrease dramatically.

It can take as long as two years for a knee replacement to heal completely. During that time, your muscles will build strength. The range of motion in your leg should be improving every day.

The degree of healing you can expect and how long it takes to achieve it will depend on the frequency and quality of your physical therapy workouts. The more you exercise, the more function you will regain.

What are the risks?

Knee replacement is a common procedure. Most people do not have complications. Daily PT sessions can reduce the likelihood of developing conditions such as these:

  • Chronic stiffness, pain or numbness in the knee
  • Dislocated kneecap
  • Surgical wound infection
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Damaged arteries, ligaments or nerves around the knee
  • Excess bone growth or scar tissue
  • Blood leaking into the knee joint
  • Unstable knee joint requiring surgical intervention
  • Broken bone around the knee replacement during or after surgery
  • Allergic reaction to bone cement

It pays to be cautious with painkillers. However, severe pain can impede healing. If you experience excessive pain, do not hesitate to tell your doctor.

Transitioning from hospital to home after surgery or illness requires expert senior care and rehabilitation in an environment designed to promote healing and well-being. Contact us to learn more about senior rehabilitation therapies at Crestwood Manor.

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