In honor of National Rehabilitation Week, we’ve decided to take a look at the rehabilitation process for a common procedure, a knee joint replacement. This type of surgery is required when the knee is damaged by arthritis. During surgery, doctors cut open your knee and remove the damaged part of the joint. An artificial joint is then attached to the cleaned surface, which uses the support of muscles and ligaments surrounding the knee for mobility and function.
While the process sounds scary, it’s actually becoming more and more common, with 4.5 million people in the US having undergone the procedure. With new advances, the surgery is now much less invasive than it once was, giving patients an easier recovery time and a longer lasting knee joint. However, it is still a major surgery that requires an extensive rehab process. It is important to know what to expect before your surgery so you can have a good idea of how long your recovery will take.
Right After Knee Surgery
You might think you can relax after your knee surgery happens – but you’re wrong. As soon as you wake up, your doctors prefer you to start moving your knee. In fact, they prefer it if you can be up and walking that same day! Moving the knee helps prevent swelling, blood clots, and strengthen muscles. Often, your leg is placed in a continuous passive motion machine, which moves your knee for you while you are in bed. You will also be wearing compression stockings, which help to squeeze your leg to keep the blood circulating. You’ll stay in the hospital overnight to make sure you have no complications.
The Days After Knee Surgery
Don’t get too comfy in bed, because you’re definitely getting out of it today. The first item on your itinerary will be meeting with a physical therapist. He or she will show you different exercises to complete to help your knee heal and get stronger. These can include getting out of bed, getting up out of a chair, walking with crutches, and continuing to bend and straighten your knee. After you prove that you can move about on your own with a reduced dependence on a walker or cane and bend your knee to a 90 degree angle, you will be discharged from the hospital.
A Few Weeks After Knee Surgery
Your pain and swelling should gradually decrease, allowing you improved mobility and flexibility. It is absolutely imperative to continue your physical therapy exercises, otherwise your knee won’t heal properly and your recovery time will be much longer. You might also try going on a walk several times a day, riding a stationary bike, or swimming, depending on your doctor and physical therapist’s instructions. As time goes on, you should find it easier to get around, bathe, and dress yourself. Avoid any strenuous activities for at least six weeks after surgery, as these can irritate your knee. Six weeks is the average time for short-term recovery, after which you can begin doing things like you normally would.
A Few Months After Knee Surgery
At this point, your doctor should clear you to return to activities such as driving or playing sports. Keep in mind, you will still have to avoid sports that place a lot of stress on the knee joint, such as running or jumping. It is important to commit to an active lifestyle, as gaining weight or losing muscle tissue can negatively affect your knee. Pain at this stage should be minimal or non-existent. It might take up to a year for you to feel 100 percent again, which is completely normal. You may have to take antibiotics for up to two years in order to prevent infection at your replacement site.
Want a detailed infographic that you can print and reference whenever you need to? Check out this helpful timeline that includes all of the different phases of recovery!