You're looking forward to getting rid of the arthritic pain in your knee by having an artificial joint replacement. While the surgery will take your orthopedist just a few hours, you'll spend several weeks getting your knee into shape. The key is patience and setting the pace to make slow incremental progress. Here is what you can expect during those weeks following your knee replacement surgery.
Your Work Begins in the Hospital
A few hours after the surgery, the hospital staff will get you out of bed and onto your feet. Moving stimulates the blood circulation in your body, which promotes healing. You'll learn how to move safely from bed to chair and how to take a few steps to the bathroom with crutches or a walker. The day after surgery, you'll work with a physical therapist to increase your mobility. Once your doctor is satisfied with your ability to walk with light pressure on your leg, you'll go home to continue your recovery.
Complete recovery from total knee replacement requires successfully getting through three phases:
The Healing Phase
For a few days, you'll monitor your knee as the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments heal from the surgery. Your doctor will have you look for signs of:
- warmth in the knee
- swelling in the knee
- redness around the incision
- drainage from the incision
- sharp pains in your knee
During this time, you'll put light pressure on your leg as you walk with crutches or a walker. If you have no complications after the surgery, your doctor will have you move into the next phase of your recovery.
Regaining Range of Motion
Your knee will feel stiff and be resistant to bending because the muscles in your knee haven't been used for a while. They will be tense and contracted. During this phase, you'll start working with a physical therapist to stretch out those tight muscles so your knee joint will move smoothly through its entire range of motion.
Initially, the therapist will do passive exercises where they move your leg and knee for you. The key to success in this phase is slow improvement, and your therapist will measure your progress with each session. You'll be shown how to do these exercises at home. You may be sent home with equipment to help you move your knee to gain back flexibility in that joint.
Once your knee has regained its full range of motion, you'll begin strengthening exercises on the knee. The muscles in and around your knee not only help you walk, but they support your knee to prevent damage. The physical therapist will have you work on resistance machines, treadmills and stationary bicycles to build up your muscles.
This is a time to be especially careful with your knee. As you begin to feel stronger, you'll be tempted to overdo it and push your knee beyond its limits. This can lead to damage to your knee and a setback to your recovery. Set the pace of activity with your doctor and physical therapist and stick to that, no matter how good you feel.