Hearing that a doctor has recommended a knee replacement for you or a loved one can be daunting, but knowing what to expect from the procedure and having realistic expectations for the recovery can help you successfully rehabilitate and regain function.
Knee replacement surgery can be recommended for patients who experience severe pain, stiffness and limited mobility due to arthritis or other degenerative conditions in the knee. A knee replacement is recommended as a last resort after other treatments like medications, injections or arthroscopic surgery have been attempted.
During a knee replacement, the patient is placed under general anesthesia, and orthopedic surgeons remove and replace the part of the knee joint that is damaged with an artificial material attached to the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (lower leg bone).
Some patients qualify for a newer, minimally invasive knee replacement surgery, which requires a smaller incision, possibly shortening recovery time and leading to less pain during healing. If a replacement is required in both knees, some people choose to complete both at the same time, with a longer initial recovery time due to limited mobility following surgery.
Talk to your doctor about different approaches and what is the best option for you.
After the surgery, expect a hospital stay of about three to four days. Your doctor will use input from your therapists and case manager to decide if you are able to transition to another care setting for continued rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility (SNF) or an inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF); or if you could go home with outpatient or home health care.
Whether you are at a SNF or an IRF, you will work with physical therapists to learn exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee as well as general strengthening and range of motion exercises to bend and straighten the knee joint. Therapy time in a SNF can vary according to your needs. In an IRF, the minimum therapy requirement is three hours daily.
You must begin immediately working on increasing flexibility and gaining full extension of the knee to help prevent scar tissue from forming internally. Your therapist will also teach you mobility techniques to help you return to independence — these include bed mobility, sit-to-stand and walking.
Initially, you will probably walk with a walker. As your balance, endurance and strength improve, your therapist will help you decide when you are ready for crutches, a cane or other device. Your therapist will also teach you to walk on uneven surfaces such as curbs, ramps and stairs.
Occupational therapists will assist you with activities of daily living, which may include how to safely get in and out of a shower or tub, and how to dress within your initial limitations through the use of adaptive equipment, if needed. They will teach you how to adjust your activities at home while using your walking device when you are doing things like cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
Both occupational and physical therapists will discuss any appropriate home safety instructions or modifications that might be needed. Recommendations may include the following:
Once you leave an inpatient setting, you will likely continue therapy on an outpatient basis. It is very important to continue so the therapists can monitor your strength and range of motion.
Driving can normally be resumed about four to six weeks after surgery. You will need to avoid all sports, including jogging, until cleared by your physician. If you complete your rehabilitation program and follow all post-surgery instructions from your physician and therapists, you should be able to resume most of your favorite activities with little to no discomfort.
Remember to consult with your doctor about their medical advice before seeking knee replacement surgery.
What helped you quickly recover from your knee replacement surgery? Share stories about your replacement with us in the comments below.