What to Expect When Recovering From Knee Replacement Surgery

Nearly one million knee replacement surgeries are performed each year in the United States, allowing scores of people to regain the freedom of moving without pain. While surgery of any kind typically requires a recovery period, thanks to new surgical techniques, including arthroscopy, we can get you back on your feet quicker.

At our practice, Dr. Timothy Wilson is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who has extensive experience helping our patients overcome a wide range of knee problems, from ACL tears to degenerative joint disease. With the goal of eliminating your pain and restoring mobility, we offer knee replacement options that will have you back on your feet, without pain, in no time.

Here’s a look at what you can expect during your recovery from knee replacement surgery.

Types of knee replacement

If we’ve decided that knee replacement surgery is your best option, our next decision is whether we perform a total knee replacement or a partial knee replacement.

If you have extensive damage, a total knee replacement surgery may be the best option as we’re able to replace all of the major components in your knee with metal and plastic parts.

If, however, the damage in your knee only affects certain areas, we can turn to a unicompartmental knee replacement surgery, in which we only replace the parts of your knee that are damaged, leaving healthier areas intact.

In either case, we use minimally invasive surgical techniques (arthroscopy) whenever possible, which can greatly speed up your recovery time because we’re only making small incisions to do the work.

While these advanced surgical techniques greatly reduce your recovery time, there’s still a period of healing and adjustment for all patients who undergo a knee replacement surgery.

After your knee replacement surgery 

Your recovery from knee replacement surgery typically starts from the moment you wake up from the surgery. During the first 24 hours, we provide you with a physical therapist (PT) who will get you up and moving on your new knee with the help of an assistive device. We may also use a continuous passive motion machine to prevent scar tissue from building up around your newly reconstructed joint.

In addition to getting you up and moving, we also ensure that you’re able to perform simple tasks, like getting out of a chair or negotiating stairs.

Once Dr. Wilson determines that you’re mobile enough to head home, usually within 2-3 days after your surgery, we provide you with complete aftercare instructions for your dressings, as well as a schedule of PT appointments moving forward.

Weeks 1-3

Once you get home, we urge you to follow our instructions to the letter to ensure that your recovery stays on track. Pushing too much or too little can hamper your progress and greatly delay your ability to use your replacement knee freely.

During the first few weeks of your recovery, you should make rehabilitation your primary focus. With your PT, you will regain strength and range of motion in your knee through targeted exercises. 

To give you an idea of what to expect, after week three, we’d like to see you standing on your knee for longer periods (10 minutes or more) and relying less on your assistive device, if at all, to get around.

Weeks 4-6

At this point in your recovery, you should be making significant progress if you’ve followed the steps during the first few weeks. During weeks 4-6, your PT will continue to focus on strengthening your knee and we should be able to give you the greenlight to get back to work and to drive again.

Weeks 6-12

In most cases, we recommend physical therapy for about three months after your knee replacement, so as you get back to your normal life, expect to continue your PT appointments.

As you progress during weeks 6-12, you should gain more mobility and range of motion, including bending your knee up to 115 degrees. 

This period is really where you can help or hurt your recovery — some people begin to neglect their PT during this time, which can greatly delay their progress, or even set them back if they aren’t monitored properly.

The better approach is to continue your PT all the way through, which allows you to get back to your active life within 3-6 months from your surgery.

It’s important to note that these timelines may change depending upon your circumstances, but most of our patients are up and moving freely within months of their knee replacement surgery.

If you’d like to learn more about recovering successfully from knee replacement surgery, please contact our office in Lexington, Kentucky, to set up an appointment.

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