Recovering from Knee Replacement Surgery: What to Expect

Recovering from Knee Replacement Surgery: What to Expect

During the first 12 weeks after knee replacement surgery, recovery and rehabilitation are critical. Making a plan and pushing yourself to do as much as you can every day speeds up your recovery after surgery and increases your chances of long-term success.

To regain your mobility and independence, call the experts at the Orthopaedic Institute of Henderson. Our highly experienced surgeons specialize in partial and full knee replacement surgeries. If knee pain prevents you from doing everyday activities such as climbing stairs, it may be time to consider a knee replacement. 

Here’s what you can expect in the first few months after knee replacement surgery.

First steps to recovery

There’s no time to slow down after completing your knee surgery. Rehabilitation starts immediately after the operation. As soon as possible after your surgery, a physical therapist (PT) will help you stand up and walk with an assistive device. The assistive device may be a  walker, cane, or crutches.

You’ll need the help of a nurse or occupational therapist to change the bandage, dress and bathe you, and help you use the toilet. Your PT will show you how to get in and out of bed. A nurse may ask you to walk a few steps and transfer to a bedside commode from the side of the bed.

After surgery, they’ll also help you use a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine, which moves the joint slowly and gently after surgery. It prevents scarring and makes the joint more flexible.

The CPM will likely be used in the hospital and perhaps at home as well. It’s not uncommon for people to leave an operating room with the device already attached. At this stage of recovery, you need to get lots of rest while working on straightening and bending your knee.

On the second day after knee replacement surgery, you’ll walk a bit more as your knee is getting stronger already. Most patients are discharged after one to three days.

Going back home

After we discharge you, you should be able to stand on your own without help. You’ll even be able to go on longer walks, up and down stairs with assistance, and rely on assistive devices less. At this point, you’ll also be able to bathe, dress, and use the bathroom on your own.

A few weeks after returning home

By approximately week three, you’ll be moving around much more freely, and significant pain should have subsided. This is when your pain medication will likely decrease as well. You’ll be responsible for performing the exercises and movements your PT gives you to increase your range of motion and improve your mobility. 

4 to 6 weeks after surgery

You should notice a significant improvement in your knee's strength and flexibility if you've complied with your exercise schedule and rehab plan. You should also see a decrease in swelling and inflammation.

With physical therapy, you’ll increase the strength and range of motion in your knees. Your PT may tell you to go on longer walks and stop using a device to assist you.

Six weeks post-surgery, you can travel. If you travel before this, a blood clot could occur during prolonged sitting.

7 to 11 weeks post-surgery

Physical therapy after knee replacement surgery continues for up to 12 weeks. By this time, you’ll increase your knee strength as you achieve rapid improvement in range of motion and mobility.

You should be well on your way to recovery at this point. Your pain and stiffness should be greatly reduced by now. It may be possible for you to walk a few blocks without any assistance. In addition to walking, swimming, and bicycling, you can do more physical activities.

The home stretch

By week 12, you should have much less pain. Keep talking to your healthcare team and avoid starting any new activities before checking with them first. At this stage, many people are active and begin participating in activities like golf, dancing, and bicycling. If you’re committed to rehab, this can happen more quickly.

Beyond 12 weeks

According to The American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS), you may need up to three months to get back to your old activities and six months before your knee returns to its former strength. As your knee improves, the pain will diminish with time.

Make sure your knee is in good shape by keeping in touch with your medical team and having regular checkups. To discuss your knee replacement options, speak with one of our board-certified physicians by calling the Orthopaedic Institute of Henderson today or request an appointment online.

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