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What to Expect When You’re Recovering from a Knee Replacement Surgery

By: Robert Friedman, MD   November 12, 2017

Recovering from knee replacement surgery takes time and patience. However, if you follow the instructions from your physical therapist and surgeon, you will soon be back to your normal activities.

Physical therapy is an important part of your recovery, and it begins the day after surgery while you’re still in the hospital. A therapist will come to your room the first day after surgery and help you get out of bed and start to put some weight on the affected leg. You will then work up to walking with a walker and learning how to use the stairs. Your therapist will also give you some exercises to start getting the muscles in your legs working.

Related: National Study Finds Coordinated Health Allentown Hospital Among Top 10 Percent in Nation for Knee and Hip Replacement Surgery

You will leave the hospital after one to two days. Once out of the hospital, you will begin outpatient physical therapy. On the first day you will be evaluated by a physical therapist. The evaluation will consist of a review of your medical history, changing the dressing that is covering your incision, and an assessment of the range of motion in your knee. Your therapist will also teach you some exercises, which will become part of your home exercise program. You will perform these exercises several times a day at home as well as when you come in for follow-up therapy sessions. Your therapy appointments will typically be three times per week for an hour to an hour and a half. Total rehabilitation time following surgery ranges greatly, but is typically 3-5 months.

Your therapy team will work to accomplish a few goals, including improving range of motion to a functional level for both bending and straightening. You will also work with them to improve your walking and progress from your walker to a cane and eventually progress to walking without an assistive device. Your goals may also include returning to work or to a specific sport or activity. Be sure to mention any of these goals to your therapist.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • You won’t be able to drive for a while after surgery, typically 3 to 6 weeks depending on which knee is operated on and whether your car has an automatic or manual transmission. Your surgeon will release you to return to driving when it is safe to do so.
  • Following surgery you will have staples in your incision for about two weeks. You will be instructed in the hospital on how to care for your incision and your therapist will change your dressing during your sessions until your staples have been removed.
  • You will have compression stockings on both legs as soon as you wake up from surgery. These are to assist with circulation in your legs following surgery because you will not be as active as normal. These will help keep the swelling down as well as help in preventing blood clots. Most doctors would like you to continue wearing these for six weeks following surgery.

Ultimately, please remember to ask any questions you have and share any concerns that you have about your symptoms or your care with your physician. 

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knee replacement, orthopedics