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Each year, surgeons perform approximately 600,000 total knee replacements in the United States. But, undergoing a joint replacement is only the first step in restoring your knee health. The weeks following your procedure are also key.

At Utah Orthopedics, in Ogden, Utah, Thomas Calton, MD, specializes in advanced knee surgery and outpatient knee replacement procedures. Here’s what to expect when recovering from knee replacement surgery.

The day of your procedure

Whether you undergo a traditional knee replacement or outpatient surgery where you go home the same day, your rehabilitation will start the moment you wake up.

At this stage, you should start trying to bend and straighten your knee. And, within the first 24 hours, you should begin standing up and walking with an assistive device, such as a crutch, cane, or walker. You’ll also learn how to safely change your bandage, dress, bathe, and use the bathroom without disturbing your surgical site.

It’s normal to have bruising, swelling, and pain, but it’s important to start using your knee as soon as possible.

The day after your procedure

The day after your surgery, you should start working to fully extend your knee and increase the bending by at least 10 degrees. This can help prevent joint stiffness and scar tissue buildup. You should also be able to walk for brief periods with your assistive device, and you should be able to stand, sit, and climb a few steps with help.

If Dr. Calton uses a waterproof dressing, you should be able to shower. Otherwise, you should wait 5-7 days and avoid soaking your incision for 3-4 weeks.

Weeks 1-2

You may need a prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers, blood thinners, stool softeners, or anti-nausea medications during this time. You may also experience mild to moderate swelling for 3-6 months, but you can help reduce it by elevating your leg slightly and icing it regularly.

Before your surgery, you can make your home more comfortable for your recovery by:

  • Arranging your furniture so you can maneuver in your living space easily
  • Removing trip hazards, such as area rugs or electrical cords
  • Getting a good, firm chair with a high seat and footstool
  • Installing grip bars, raised toilet seats, or shower chairs in the bathroom
  • Buying assistive devices, such as long-handled shoehorns and reaching tools

You should continue staying active and doing your daily exercises, but be careful not to do too much, too quickly.

Week 3

At this point, you shouldn’t need as much pain medication, and you should be able to move more freely with less discomfort. You should also notice daily tasks becoming easier, including:

  • Standing or walking for more than 10 minutes at a time
  • Fully-extending your knee
  • No longer needing a walker or crutches

To keep your recovery on track, you should continue doing your daily exercises, which will help build strength and restore your mobility and range of motion.

Weeks 4-6

This is when you should start seeing the results for all of your hard work. If you’ve been doing your exercises, you should see significant changes with your new knee, including more strength and flexibility, and less inflammation and swelling.

Now you should start focusing on increasing your knee strength and range of motion. If you’re still using an assistive device, you should rely on it less and start walking farther.

You should also be able to do other activities during this period, such as:

  • Clean, cook, and do other everyday tasks
  • Work at a desk job
  • Start to drive

You can usually start traveling long distances again after six weeks.

Weeks 7-11

You should be on the home stretch now, and your physical therapy should continue to increase your strength, mobility, and range of motion. As your knee improves, you should expect your physical therapy exercises to become more challenging, too.

Week 12

Congratulations! You should have much less pain and should be able to resume many low-impact activities. However, you should continue to avoid high-impact activities that could cause trauma to your knee joint or its surrounding tissues.

Play it safe at Week 12, and stay active with bicycling, golfing, or swimming instead of running, basketball, or aerobics.

Weeks 13-52

A knee replacement is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Within three months of your procedure, you should be able to participate in most activities, but it can take 6-12 months before your knee gains its strength and resilience.

When you make it to this stage of the recovery process, it’s 90% likely that your new knee will last 15 years, and it’s 82% likely that it will make it 25 years.

Do you want to see if a knee replacement could help you? To learn more, book an appointment over the phone with Utah Orthopedics today.

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