Knee Replacement Recovery
The biggest hurdle for most people is the belief that recovery will be slow and painful. Who wants to be out of commission for months on end?
While this is the expectation most people have, in reality most patients are walking the first day and many experience little or no pain. “There are many reasons why recovery from joint replacement is faster now,” notes Dr. Parsley. “There are better surgical techniques and better instruments, and our incisions are much smaller. We have better pain management and this leads to a more rapid recovery.”
Most patients with artificial joints are able to enjoy many activities, though some should be avoided. Regular exercise to restore your knee mobility and strength and a gradual return to everyday activities are important for your full recovery. A home program for rehabilitation exercises is a MUST during the early recovery period. Your surgeon and therapist will determine the type and amount of exercise you should be doing to assist you in returning to your normal, active lifestyle. Early motion is the key to a successful recovery.
What to Expect
Your physical therapist will provide you with a packet that is designed specifically for you prior to discharge. For maximum benefit, the program should be followed according to the instructions provided. You may feel uncomfortable at first, but these exercises will speed your recovery and actually diminish your postoperative pain.
During weeks 1 through 3, you will become more independent. If you are receiving home therapy, you will need to be very faithful to your exercise program to achieve the best outcome.
During weeks 4 through 6, you will see increasing mobility and will become more independent. Your home exercise program will be even more important as you receive less supervised therapy.
Weeks 7 – 12
During weeks 7 through 12, you should be able to begin resuming all of your normal activities.
Pain Management is Key to Faster Recovery
Dr. Michael Kent, UT Physicians orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the Joint Center at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital explains that the biggest positive change over the last several years in joint replacement surgery is in better pain management. “Patients recover more quickly thanks to new pain management techniques that tackle nausea and help patients get up sooner, even the day of surgery,” says Dr. Kent. “When I ask a patient the day after surgery what is their pain level, most say zero. Most patients go home the day after surgery or to outpatient physical therapy.”
At each Memorial Hermann Joint Center, patients who have surgery around the same time get together for group physical therapy. “Patients enjoy sharing their stories and they motivate each other,” he says. “It’s helpful to have new patients talk with our former patients, so they can hear honest testimonials about the recovery process. We encourage patients to take photos of how they’re enjoying life and we put the photos on our wall. New patients enjoy seeing real people who are examples of how life can be lived better, pain free.”
Dr. Kent adds that the procedures and standards that the Memorial Hermann Joint Center follows before, during and after surgery, exceed recommended guidelines. “Our goal with knee replacement,” he notes, “is to relieve pain and stiffness, restore the normal alignment of the knee and give patients a smoother, quicker recovery. Most patients finish physical therapy six to eight weeks after surgery, an improvement over the three-month average of five years ago.”
Physical therapy requires commitment, but if you follow your regimen, you may be pleasantly surprised by the speed of your progress. Adding simple steps to your daily routine can help keep your new knee joints functioning well and lasting longer.
Possible Complications of Knee Replacement Surgery
Joint replacement surgery is major surgery and although advances in technology and medical care have made the procedure very safe and effective, there are risks.
These risks should be considered carefully before you decide to have surgery. We encourage you to discuss the potential risks with your orthopedic surgeon, primary care provider and your family.
Every measure will be taken by our team of experts to minimize the risks and avoid complications. Although complications are rare, they do sometimes occur. We will do our very best to avoid the most common risks which include:
Blood clots are more common in older patients, patients who are obese, patients with a history of blood clots, patients who smoke, and patients with cancer.
Infection is very rare in healthy patients having a knee replacement. Patients with chronic health conditions, like diabetes or liver disease, or patients who take some forms of corticosteroids, are at higher risk of infection after any surgery.
Nerve, Blood Vessel, and Ligament Injuries
Damage to the surrounding structures in the knee, including nerves, blood vessels and ligaments, are possible but extremely rare.
Sometimes the surgical incision heals slowly, particularly if you take corticosteroids or have a disease that affects the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes, or you are a smoker.
Limited Range of Motion
Within a day of surgery, you will begin exercises to help improve the flexibility of your knee. Your ability to bend your knee after surgery often depends on how far you could bend it before surgery. Even after physical therapy and an extended recovery period, some people are not able to bend their knee far enough to do normal activities such as reaching your feet to put on socks or tie your shoes.
Bleeding into the knee can occur either immediately after surgery or at a later time. This is accompanied by acute pain and swelling and is sometimes confused with infection.
After surgery, the knee may feel a bit unstable. This will normally improve as muscles regain their strength.
Loosening of the Joint: Over the long term, loosening of the artificial knee joint is the most common risk associated with total knee replacement. Loosening may occur when tissue grows between the artificial joint and your bone.