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Surgeon and Author, Dr. Stuart Gold,
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Knee Replacement Surgery Recovery… What Should I Expect?

July 15th, 2011

I strive to make sure my patient’s expectations are appropriately managed during recovery. Just the other day a patient asked me, “Dr. Gold, What’s going to happen during my recovery from knee replacement surgery?” To help her and you, I jotted down some ideas below…

So we are on the same page, knee replacement surgery, or knee arthroplasty, involves the removal of the diseased joint and the insertion of a prosthesis. During the procedure, the bones of the thigh and shin are prepared to accept the artificial joint and any damaged tissue is removed.

The ligaments are balanced and alignment corrected. Once the new joint is in position, the surgeon sutures and bandages the incision, the patient is moved to the recovery room and the healing process can begin.

In many cases, the patient is immediately asked to move his foot or flex his ankle. Early movement can help increase the flow of blood in the leg and reduce the risk of clots or swelling. The patient may be given blood thinners or placed in compression boots as a precaution against clotting.

Most patients begin working with a physical therapist within 24 hours of surgery. The therapist may manipulate the leg to demonstrate exercises that the patient is to perform. Patients who follow instructions and faithfully practice their exercises typically experience the most satisfactory results

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Initially, patients will follow a graduated exercise program to regain strength and mobility. They may exercise by walking indoors, moving to outdoor strolls when they achieve a level of comfort with their movements. Going up or down staircases may be avoided at first, and  then encouraged as healing progresses. Crutches, walkers and canes may be appropriate at certain points during the healing process and discouraged at a later date. Every patient’s recovery is different, and only his physician can decide the exact nature of his rehabilitation program.

Normal light activities, such as walking or shopping, can typically be resumed three to six weeks after surgery. If the patient has enough flexibility in the knee and sufficient muscle control to operate the pedals safely, driving may be resumed in three to six weeks. Although low-impact sports, such as golf or swimming, can likely be resumed once recovery is complete, some patients can return to sports such as tennis or skiing. Since each case is different, however, patients should discuss such limitations with their surgeons.

During recovery, patients should protect themselves from falls. A fall can damage or loosen the prosthesis and lead to another surgery to correct the damage. Although physical activity is an important factor in a successful recovery, patients should not push themselves beyond their limits, since counter-productive injuries may result. Every patient is unique, therefore a comprehensive discussion with your surgeon prior to surgery  needs to occur to establish expectations and goals.

I hope this helps you learn more about knee replacement surgery recovery!

Until next time,

About the Author: Dr. Stuart Gold, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who has 23 years experience specializing in sport injuries, joint replacement, arthritis and limb salvage. As the Director of the Orthopedic Institute, Dr. Gold recently published The Patient's Guide To Orthopedic Surgery to help patients better understand the challenges, risks and opportunities of orthopedic care.

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