Healthy Living

What to Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery

What to Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery

Key Takeaways

  • Infection of the surgical wound is one thing you should watch out for. 
  • If you had a minimally invasive procedure to replace your knee, you will be able to walk on the same day of the operation.
  • Your knee's full recovery can take up to two years.  

The major thing you would expect after a knee replacement is proper recovery and the successful outcome of the procedure. Knee replacement surgery is a procedure that is aimed at correcting a damaged knee joint. The recovery period after this operation varies depending on the type of surgery carried out and the individual's health.

After knee replacement surgery

Immediately after the surgery is over, you will be given a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA) that will enable you to administer painkillers at the rate that is safe and effective for you.

If it becomes necessary, you will have a blood transfusion or use an oxygen mask. Your knee will be dressed to protect the wound and drains may also be used to prevent blood from collecting in the wound. The dressing on your knee will be changed periodically until your wound has healed.

What risks should I expect?

Just like any other type of operation, knee replacement surgery is accompanied by some risks. But most patients who undergo knee replacement surgery do not experience serious complications.

You should contact your surgeon if you:

  • Develop hard, painful, hot red areas on your legs within the first two weeks after the operation. Bruising is common in surgical wounds, but this could also mean the development of a blood clot.
  • Experience any chest pain or difficulty in breathing. This is very uncommon but if you experience it, you might have a clot in your lungs, and this requires immediate treatment.

Anesthesia is generally safe during surgery but they may carry side effects such as confusion and a feeling of sickness. Death can result from anesthesia in rare cases (one person in every 100,000 who receive general anesthesia). Also, in old people, the use of anesthesia can cause health complications such as lung and heart disease.

The most serious post-operative complications for knee replacement surgery are the following:

  • Infection - Infection of the wound is one thing you should watch out for. Infection can be prevented and treated with the use of antibiotics. If your wound becomes deeply infected, you will need further surgery to replace the artificial knee joint.
  • Excessive bleeding - This can also be expected in the knee joint where the operation was done. You can prevent this by not taking any blood thinners before the operation.
  • Blood clots - Blood clots, also known as thrombosis, can occur in the leg veins due to reduced movement in the legs in the first days after surgery. You can prevent clots by wearing support stockings, using anticoagulants, and exercising soon after your surgery.

These are other complications that could occur after the operation:

  • Damage to the nerves, arteries, and ligaments around the knee joint can occur.
  • Fractures can form in bones near the artificial joint. This occurrence can restrict movement depending on the location they are found and the sizes of the fractures.
  • Excess bone can form around the prosthesis disabling movement of the knee. Further surgery would be required to resolve this.
  • Numbness can result around the surgery site.
  • The kneecap can become dislocated.
  • An allergic reaction may occur due to the cement used during the surgery.
  • Scar tissue may form after surgery and restrict the movement of the knee. Another operation would be required to restore normal movement.

How soon will I recover?

The medical staff will help you walk about. Walking soon after surgery is recommended. If you had a minimally invasive procedure to replace your knee, you will be able to walk on the same day of the operation.

Walking on crutches or with a walker is encouraged. Walking independently or with a stick can take about a week. However, age, weight, and the overall physical health of the patient can determine the recovery period.

During the hospital stay, a physiotherapist will take you through recommended exercises to strengthen your knee. You can begin the exercises one day after the operation. You should take care to strictly follow your physiotherapist's instructions to avoid joint dislocation and other complications. You leg swelling and initial discomfort when exercising or walking are things you should expect.

You can also use a passive motion machine to help restore the normal movement of your leg. The support of this machine enables your leg and joint to move even when lying down on a bed. It can also help prevent swelling by keeping your leg always raised, allowing proper blood circulation.

Other questions you will probably want to know the answers to include:

When can I drive again?

You can resume driving as long as you can bend your knee properly and can control the car, which means you will probably be able to resume driving four-six weeks after the operation.

When can I resume working?

Going back to work depends on the type of work you do. However, you will be able to resume doing household chores such as washing and dusting after three months.

How about my sex life?

Your surgeon will let you know when you can have sex again. If you are careful, you can have it after six-eight months, although at that point you would still have to avoid vigorous sex involving kneeling.

When will I feel normal?

Given some time, you will be able to stop using crutches or a cane and resume normal activities. This may take you about six weeks after surgery. It may, however, take up to three months for the pain and swelling to stop. The swelling in your leg can take up to a year to disappear.

Your knee can take up to two years before full recovery. During this period, you will have your muscles restored and scar tissue fully healed. It is good to avoid extreme movements and high-impact sports, especially those that involve the risk of falling, such as mountain biking and skiing. Your physiotherapist will be able to give you more detailed advice.

How long will my replaced knee last?

Wear and tear from everyday movements means that your replacement won’t last forever. For many people, the replacement can last about fifteen to twenty years when taken care of and subjected to low strain.

A revision knee replacement surgery can be done when your initial replacement wears out. This procedure is longer and more complicated that the original surgery, therefore it is recommended only when specific signs show that it is necessary. Among these signs are reduced knee stability or function and pain or infection. It is also possible for a bone to fracture or the prosthetic device to fail. 

Bottom Line

After knee replacement surgery, caring for your knee is of utmost importance. You can expect a recovery period that keeps you busy with many things to do to make sure your knee gets back to normal. Follow your physiotherapist's instructions to ensure the full and speedy rehabilitation of your knee.