First Week After Total Knee Replacement – Recovery Tips
The first few weeks after total knee replacement surgery are very important for recovery and rehabilitation (rehab). It is important to commit to your rehab plan post-surgery — allowing your knee to heal, and your strength and mobility to return.
In this article, we’ll provide some helpful tips for recovering from total knee replacement surgery. We’ll cover how long the recovery process usually takes, what to do during your first week post-surgery and any activities you should avoid in the long term.
What does knee replacement surgery involve?
Knee replacement is a common procedure to treat knees worn or damaged by osteoarthritis or injury, relieving pain and restoring function. Knee replacement surgery is very effective — over 90% of people who have a total knee replacement experience a significant reduction in pain and an improvement in their mobility.
Knee replacement involves the removal of bone and cartilage from damaged surfaces of the thigh bone and shinbone, as well as the kneecap. An artificial joint (prosthesis) — usually made from materials such as metal alloy and high-density plastic — is then secured in place of the damaged joints.
Total knee replacement can use a general anaesthetic (making you unconscious) or a regional anaesthetic (numbing your body from the waist down). You will be able to discuss the different anaesthetic techniques available with your anaesthetist. After the artificial joint pieces are secured, the knee will be tested for function by the surgeon.
The procedure takes around an hour to 90 minutes to complete.
What is the recovery time for total knee replacement?
It can take up to 12 weeks to recover after total knee replacement surgery. The recovery period allows time for pain and swelling to settle down, and for you to gradually increase your movements until you can resume an active lifestyle.
While you may be able to stop using crutches or a walking frame and begin normal activities at around six weeks following surgery, you will typically need to wait longer before starting more intense physical activities, such as swimming, cycling or jogging.
Each person’s total knee replacement recovery time will look different and can be affected by factors such as overall health, activity levels and age.
What to expect the first week after knee replacement surgery
After a total knee replacement, you will stay in hospital for a couple of days so that your healthcare team can monitor your progress.
Rehab will begin as soon as you wake up following the procedure, with you moving your knee joint in bed. Within 24 hours, you will walk using a frame or crutches with the help of a physiotherapist. You’ll only walk while assisted, over short distances. Physiotherapists and nurses will also guide you through exercises to strengthen your knee and increase your mobility.
During the first week, it is normal to have bruising and swelling, not only in your knee but in the whole leg region. You’ll be prescribed pain medication by your doctor, with the dose being lowered after the first few days.
Gradually, you will increase your knee’s range of motion, working on straightening and bending it. You are likely to be discharged by day 2 or 3 following the procedure and can return home to continue your recovery.
Knee replacement recovery tips
After the first week, you’ll continue to heal while building your strength and mobility. Here are some tips to bear in mind for your recovery:
- Rest up – rest is key to any kind of recovery. While you will be keen to return to normal activities, it is imperative for your healing that you get enough rest. Remember to balance any activity with adequate amounts of rest. Keep your leg elevated and apply ice to help with healing.
- Manage pain and discomfort – you shouldn’t try to ‘grin and bear it’ following a total knee replacement. Managing pain with medication reduces your discomfort and speeds up your recovery.
- Get moving – it is important to begin moving as soon as possible during your recovery. While it might not be easy, starting to walk can help to improve circulation, prevent complications such as blood clots, and keep your joints as supple as possible. You will usually be able to begin walking at the hospital before you are discharged.
- Perform your knee exercises – your physiotherapist will show you some exercises that you can do at home, strengthening the muscles around your knee and restoring the mobility of your knee joint. Even when you feel better, it is important to continue physiotherapy as part of your recovery.
- Ensure your home is ‘recovery ready’ – there are several ways that you can make recovery at home easier, including stocking up on groceries, removing any potential hazards and clearing space for your mobility devices, and readying a comfortable pair of slip-on shoes.
Your healthcare team will work with you to create a plan that helps you to recover from your knee replacement faster and gets you back to full health as quickly as possible.
What to avoid after knee replacement
Exercise is an important part of recovery following a total knee replacement. However, there are particular actions and activities that you should avoid. These include contact sports like football and rugby, or downhill skiing.
As a general rule, sports that require running, twisting, jerking or pulling should be avoided — these include racquet, basketball, and martial arts. Activities that carry a higher risk of falling, such as climbing, are also discouraged.
If you are unsure whether an activity is safe, ask for advice from a medical professional.
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