Recovering from Total Knee Replacement Surgery: What to Expect

Mar 12, 2024
Recovering from Total Knee Replacement Surgery: What to Expect
A total knee replacement surgery can help to keep your knee working properly for years to come, but there’s a lot you should know about the road to recovery after getting it done. Read on to find out more.

 The largest and one of the most important joints in your body, your knees are a remarkable part of your lower body. They connect your upper and lower leg, enable you to maintain balance, and are vital to your ability to stand, run, walk, and jump. 

This unique joint is composed of three main parts: the femur, the patella, and the tibia (thighbone, kneecap, and shin bone respectively), which meet on two articulating surfaces, namely the patellofemoral and tibiofemoral. These essential parts are connected through ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves and are cushioned by cartilage to absorb impact as you move.

Our constant reliance on the knee joint exposes it to the risk of injury, and in many cases a total knee replacement surgery (also called knee arthroplasty) may be necessary to remedy injuries. Let’s guide you through the process and aftercare for this procedure by looking at the reasons you may need it, the surgery itself, and what you can expect from the road to recovery.

If you live in the Fort Worth, Texas, area, and you’re recovering from a joint operation like knee surgery, Dr. Joseph Daniels and his dedicated staff at Southwest Orthopedic Associates can help you through the healing.

Reasons for getting a total knee replacement

Whether you’re highly active with walking, running, or sports, or you’re just working around the house, you’re using your knees. Many different factors can lead to damage to this joint that may require surgical intervention, such as sports injuries, car accidents, and different forms of arthritis, a condition which damages the cartilage and tissue in the joint. 

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms like stiffness, joint pain, swelling, and limited mobility that don’t improve over time, consider looking into knee replacement. It may be an option for you, if the diagnosis points to the damage being severe enough.

The knee replacement process

In a total knee replacement surgery, we start with gaining access to the kneecap by making an incision across the front of the knee. The size of the incision will depend on whether or not it’s an open surgery or a minimally invasive one. 

Once the kneecap is exposed, we rotate it to view what needs to be worked on, and resurface the bones for replacement. After we resurface the femur and tibia, we place the metal components and seal them onto the bone. 

Then, we readjust the patella to its normal position, and if necessary attach a plastic piece onto it to make sure everything fits properly. 

Finally, we test the knee for proper alignment and function by bending it carefully. When no other adjustments are needed, we stitch up and bandage the knee. 

A continuous passive motion machine (CPM) may be used to bend and flex the knee while you’re lying down after the surgery.

Recovery and aftercare

Depending on how we approach the procedure, you may have an overnight hospital stay, or it may be done as an outpatient surgery. After you’re checked out in the recovery room, we start the basics of recovery and rehabilitation, which take about 12 weeks: 

Weeks 1-3

Pain medications will help to ease the pain after the procedure — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, over-the-counter medications, and in extreme cases, opioids.

We often advise patients to start gentle exercises mere hours after surgery, to reduce the risks of blood clots and keep the knee moving as it heals. Rest is essential, along with elevating the knee and building a gradual exercise regimen.

Weeks 4-6

Postoperative checkups are common around this time, and any adjustments to your rehabilitation can be determined during your visit. You should need less assistance to get around, and you may get permission to start driving again.

Weeks 7-11

You should experience less stiffness when moving around, and swelling should have subsided by this point. Physical therapy is going to get progressively more advanced, but be sure to not jump into a normal routine too soon at this point. 

You may also want to avoid air travel, because the combination of long periods of sitting and changes in air pressure can lead to blood clots.

Week 12

Things should be back to normal function, and you should have a full range of motion and little to no pain. Physical therapy, along with stationary biking and swimming, is still important at this point. Consult us about going back into strenuous activities at this point.

Total knee replacement surgery can make a world of difference, but you will need to take proper care of your knee while healing from the procedure. If you’re ready for surgery or need help recovering from it, make an appointment with Dr. Daniels and Southwest Orthopedic Associates today.