Q: I have a lot of knee pain and my doctor is now recommending I get it replaced, but I’m worried about the recovery.
A: Knee replacements are one of the most common orthopedic surgeries and will only increase as the population ages. As we get older, arthritis or perhaps an injury severely weaken the knee joint making regular activities like walking or climbing stairs too painful and other remedies, such as medication, no longer effective.
During surgery, the damaged part of the knee joint is removed and the remaining parts are then shaped to hold the plastic or metal replacement joint. Knee replacements dramatically reduce any pain you’re experiencing. After a recovery period, people who have their knees replaced can resume normal activities, including walking, swimming, playing golf, biking and other low-impact sports. Knee replacements can last for many years.
A total joint replacement, such as a knee, requires staying in the hospital for several days. The doctor will provide pain medication to help during those first couple of days and physical therapy will likely begin the next day. The therapist will teach you specific exercises to strengthen your leg and restore knee movement. You’ll need to continue these exercises after you return home.
After surgery, you’ll need to use a walker or crutches at first to get around since your new knee won’t be able to support your full weight. As you recover, you’ll be able to use a cane. Within six weeks, you should be able to walk normally without much assistance.
Once home, you’ll need some help getting around the house. If you live alone, you’ll probably need to have someone come to stay with you for a couple of days. In that first week after you return home, you’ll tire easily and will need to make sure you continue the exercises you learned from the physical therapist in the hospital. Home health nurses or physical therapists might be able to visit you at home too.
Doing those exercises – plus others you’ll learn during outpatient physical therapy – will play a key role in your recovery. Within three to six weeks of surgery, you should be able to resume most normal activities. If you work, expect to be out about six weeks. If you are on your feet a lot, you may be out longer. That decision will be between you and your doctor.
A knee replacement is major surgery, but it greatly improves your quality of life by eliminating pain. If you have specific questions, your surgeon will be able to answer them.
By Dr. Clay Canaday, orthopedic surgeon, ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus in Shawano.