What to Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery

Although the recovery process following knee replacement surgery is somewhat lengthy, most patients state that it is well worth the benefits they are enjoying now that the recovery process is over. Patients who have outpatient knee replacement surgery head home shortly after their procedure; however, some patients have this surgery and then remain in the hospital for several days.

Those who have their surgery as an outpatient procedure need to demonstrate their ability to perform certain tasks before the surgeon releases them to their driver.

Before being discharged following outpatient knee replacement surgery, patients need to be able to:

  • Use the washroom, eat and drink.
  • Get in and out of bed.
  • Walk on a level surface using some type of assistive device (e.g., a walker, cane or crutches).
  • Climb up and down a couple of steps.
  • Perform the exercises prescribed by their physical therapist.

Patients must also have acceptable pain control options and understand which activities they need to avoid, so that their knee has time to heal properly. Patients who are unable to meet these goals will be transferred to a skilled nursing or rehabilitation center.

Learn more about Cameron Hospital’s orthopedic services.

What Are the First 24 Hours After Knee Replacement Like?

As you awake from anesthesia, you’ll start to regain your feeling in your leg. Your doctor will more than likely work to relieve any pain by using non-medicated pain relief techniques.

Within the first 24 hours, if you feel that your pain is manageable, your doctor may ask you to stand and walk around. Generally, if you can bear the weight and move around freely, you will more than likely recover more quickly.

Recovering at Home After Knee Replacement Surgery

Once the patient heads home, he or she needs to have someone serve as a caregiver for several days, or, in some cases, several weeks. Having a caregiver during this time is one of the most important precautions after knee replacement surgery. Therefore, patients who do not have an individual to help them during this timeframe need to let their surgeon know. In cases such as these, the patient may be able to spend some time in a rehabilitation or skilled nursing facility.

Restrictions After Knee Surgery

Patients must remember to follow the surgeon and physical therapist’s precautions after knee replacement surgery. These precautions are necessary to ensure the patient avoids performing tasks that place an excessive amount of stress on their newly replaced knee (e.g., running, participating in contact sports).

Exercise and sports

Patients need to continue performing the exercises their physical therapist prescribed for them for at least two months after their knee replacement surgery. At some point, the surgeon may recommend that the patient begin adding in some additional activity (e.g., riding a stationary bicycle). This additional activity may be recommended to help the patient maintain good muscle tone and to keep his or her knee flexible. It is vital that the patient follows all the instructions provided by the surgeon and physical therapist.

The patient should never begin performing an activity or participating in a sport without the approval of the surgeon. Nonetheless, with time, patients are able to begin participating in many of the physical activities they enjoyed before their knee replacement surgery.

Once the patient receives approval from their surgeon, swimming offers patients an excellent, low-impact activity. While this is a low-impact activity, it is imperative that the patient receive approval from the surgeon before swimming because the incision must be adequately healed to reduce the likelihood of the patient developing an infection.

Walking is a fantastic way to supplement the physical therapy exercises the patient performs. However, walking cannot replace the exercises that the physical therapist and surgeon provide.

Typically, once they are released to become more active, patients should concentrate on performing activities that are considered low impact (e.g., bicycling, golfing). Higher impact activities including racquetball, jogging and skiing offer exercise, but these are not the preferred method for increasing the longevity of the knee following knee replacement surgery.

Traveling after knee replacement surgery

  • Flying: The pressure changes associated with traveling by air in conjunction with the need to remain immobile can lead to inflammation in the leg with the artificial knee joint. Therefore, patients should speak with their physician before taking a long trip or traveling by air. Furthermore, the metal detectors airports use vary in sensitivity, which means that the artificial joint may be recognized by some of these metal detectors. The best way for patients to handle this issue is by informing the screener that they have an artificial knee joint before they actually go through the metal detector.
  • Driving: If your primary driving leg was operated on, you should avoid driving for at least two weeks, and up to two months if your healing process takes longer. If your non-driving leg was operated on, you can freely drive once you can get in and out of your car easily.

Working after knee replacement surgery

This primarily depends on the type of work you do. Jobs that are more physically demanding, like construction, may be harder to return to at all, as constant pressure on your new joint can hasten the need for a second surgery. Desk jobs and other types of work that require sitting and standing can see you returning to work anywhere between four weeks to three months.

Potential Complications Following Knee Replacement Surgery

Warning signs of an infection:

  • A persistent fever that is higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Chills (causing the body to shake).
  • Incision drainage.
  • Tenderness, redness or inflammation at the site of the incision.
  • Signs that could indicate the patient has developed a blood clot:
  • Redness or tenderness above or below the knee.
  • Pain in the calf or the leg that is unrelated to the incision site.
  • Inflammation at the ankle, calf or foot that continues to gradually increase.
  • Signs that indicate a blood clot has traveled to the patient’s lung include:
  • A sudden onset of pain in the chest.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Coughing that is accompanied by localized chest pain.

Post-Knee Replacement Tips for a Better Recovery

When you’re at home recovering from knee replacement surgery, there are plenty of things to keep in mind to help you recover better and faster. Here are some key points to remember when recovering from knee replacement surgery:

  • Treat any pain that you feel, don’t ignore it
  • Use a walking cane
  • Minimize long walks, stairs, and other things that put strain on your knee
  • Treat swelling
  • Tell your physical therapist about pain or discomfort
  • Routinely practice rehabilitation exercises

Turn to Cameron Hospital for Orthopedic Care & Knee Replacement Surgery

As previously stated, if any of these signs are present, the patient needs to seek emergency medical care.

If you are thinking about having knee replacement surgery, contact one of Cameron’s experienced orthopedic surgeons to schedule a consultation.


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