4 things to know about recovering from knee replacement surgery

If you are considering a total knee replacement, join the crowd. Joint replacement surgeries are among the most common elective surgeries.

About 680,000 total knee replacements were done in 2014, and the number is expected to almost double by 2030, according to a recent study presented to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Knee replacement surgery may be in order when pain, often due to osteoarthritis, becomes too much to live with. Surgeons cut away damaged cartilage and bone, and replace it with implants made of metal alloys and highly cross-linked polyethylene.

“After total knee replacement surgery, the vast majority of patients achieve excellent functional results,” said Dr. Jacob Conjeski, a joint reconstruction specialist for Mountainstate Orthopedic Associates. “But the recovery process takes time and differs patient to patient.”

Dr. Conjeski addressed common concerns about recovering from knee replacement:

Rehabbing your knee

Physical therapy will have you walking on your knee either the day of surgery or the morning after. Physical therapy starts within 24 hours of surgery. A physical therapist will work with you on an exercise program.

Therapy may last up to eight weeks, depending on your physical condition. Most patients are discharged home from the hospital and have a physical therapist come to their house for the first several weeks after surgery. However, some patients are discharged from the hospital to a rehabilitation center, depending on how they are recovering from surgery.

Outpatient physical therapy begins two weeks after surgery and is coupled with a home exercise program.

Managing pain after surgery

You may need narcotic pain medication for several weeks after surgery, although some patients use painkillers for a shorter period of time. Your doctor may recommend non-narcotic pain medications and other pain management strategies as well.

Resuming activities after knee surgery

You may need to use crutches or a walker for stability for several weeks. But you should be able to resume most daily activities such as light housework and shopping four to six weeks after surgery.

You may be able to drive after about four weeks, provided you are off narcotic pain medication and have sufficient mobility and strength. However, some patients aren’t cleared to drive for a couple months.

“You doctor will evaluate your recovery and let you know when it’s safe to drive,” Conjeski said. “The rate of recovery often depends on overall physical condition and how motivated patients are to follow through with a therapy regimen.”

Take precautions to avoid a fall. Eliminate trip hazards like loose rugs and electrical cords around the house. You may need accommodations in the bathroom such as a shower chair or elevated toilet seat.

Low-impact activities like walking, golf, biking and swimming are best. It’s important to avoid activities that are hard on the knees and can damage the new joint. Talk to your doctor about limitations.

Returning to work

It depends on the type of work and your rate of recovery. People with desk jobs may be able to return after a month or so. A job that is more physically demanding may require several months to make a full return.

This column is provided by Mon Health.

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