What to Expect After a Total Knee Replacement

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If you struggle with chronic knee pain and knee mobility, your doctor may recommend total knee replacement surgery once conservative treatment options are exhausted. Knowing what to expect after a total knee replacement can help you regain knee strength and mobility so that you can resume independent living more quickly.

How Long Does Total Knee Replacement Surgery Take?

Total knee replacement surgery can take anywhere from one to three hours. Once the procedure is complete, your knee will be wrapped in a sterile bandage, and you’ll be taken to the recovery room.

Immediately After Surgery

Most patients want to know how long it takes to recover from total knee replacement. Typically, the rehabilitation process begins the day following your surgery and lasts roughly 12 weeks.

A physical therapist will have you up and walking using a walker, crutches or cane within 24 hours of surgery, as long as your pain is under control. With each passing day, you should be able to gradually increase your activity level.

Most patients stay in the hospital for one to three days after surgery, but some patients need to stay a bit longer. You will be discharged once your pain level is manageable and you can:

  • Get in and out of bed
  • Walk a short distance with crutches or a walker
  • Bend the knee 90 degrees

At discharge, you will be given directions from your orthopedic surgeon to aid your recovery process.

What to Expect After Discharge

Within 10 days following your discharge, you should be able to:

  • Bend your knee 90 degrees and extend your leg fully
  • Stand independently or with little help
  • Rely less on assistive devices
  • Bathe, dress and use the toilet on your own
  • Climb up or down a flight of stairs

At the two to three-week mark, your knee may be strong enough to carry more weight. Most people are either using a cane or nothing at all by this point.

By week six, you should notice a dramatic improvement if you’ve followed your exercise and rehabilitation schedule. Swelling and inflammation should decrease, and you should have increased strength and mobility. Many patients can take care of themselves and resume most activities at this point.

Three months after surgery, the majority of patients are 90% recovered. After six months, most patients feel 100% recovered.

How to Assist Your Recovery After Discharge

To ensure your recovery process is as successful as possible, it’s important to follow your orthopedic surgeon’s directions as closely as possible. After discharge from the hospital, you will need to:

  • Perform strength and mobility exercises and attend physical therapy.
  • Maximize rest to minimize the risk of falls
  • Use an assistive device such as a walker or cane
  • Treat pain, discomfort and swelling with medication, cold packs and elevation

Returning to Activities

Here’s a general guide on when you can expect to resume everyday activities:

  • Driving: If your driving leg was operated on, you may be able to drive as soon as two weeks after surgery, so long as you’re not taking pain meds that impair your driving and you have adequate muscle strength and reflexes.
  • Work: Those who work sedentary or desk jobs may be able to return to work four to six weeks after surgery.
  • Sports: Recreational activities like walking or swimming can be attempted about seven weeks after surgery. Once you hit week 12, you should be able to take part in most activities, aside from high-impact sports that could damage your knee such as basketball, skiing and running.

How Long Does Pain Last After Total Knee Replacement?

Generalized pain can last several weeks following knee replacement surgery. However, you can expect much less pain within a month. Pain medication and specialized exercises for total knee replacement can help you manage pain.

How Should You Sleep After Total Knee Replacement?

The best way to sleep following knee replacement surgery is on your back. This position maintains proper blood flow to the surgical site and allows your leg to stay as straight as possible to avoid hypertension of the knee.

Contact OrthoBethesda to Learn More

If you believe that you are a candidate for total knee replacement, we invite you to reach out to us online to schedule an appointment at OrthoBethesda.