Recovery time after a knee replacement will vary by patient, as all bodies are different. Generally, it takes about eight weeks to recover from the surgery itself. After the surgery, it may take around three to six months to fully recover from knee replacement surgery.
A patient’s recovery will depend largely on the extent to which they take care of their knees post-surgery as well as their age. A patient may find they are able to drive as early as three weeks post-surgery, and able to complete daily tasks after three to six weeks. It is very important to follow the advice that is given by your health professional to ensure a full recovery.
What Is Knee Replacement Surgery and How Does It Work?
Knee replacement surgery is a procedure that treats and hopefully cures arthritis in the knee. Knee arthritis occurs often naturally with age; however, it may also occur with autoimmune and inflammatory illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis of the knee joint, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritis in the knees can result in a lot of pain and suffering as well as loss of function, due to the loss of cartilage from the arthritis and the subsequent damage to the bone.
Arthritis of the knee is usually categorised into stages:
- Stage 0 = normal
- Stage 1 = minor
- Stage 2 = mild
- Stage 3 = moderate
- Stage 4 = severe
Stage 4 arthritis usually requires surgery when the patient’s knee is no longer functioning properly, while the earlier stages may be managed through other treatments or aids (such as, knee braces, physiotherapy, acupuncture, walking sticks).
Knee surgery (also known as knee arthroplasty) is done either under a full general anaesthetic, in which case the patient will be asleep for the entire procedure, or a spinal block where they cannot feel anything from the waist downwards but are still conscious throughout.
During the surgery, an artificial knee is put into the body to replace the damaged one – a knee replacement can be either partial or total. Damaged bone and cartilage are removed during surgery and replaced with a prosthesis (an artificial joint). The prosthesis is made from metal alloys, plastic and polymers. An orthopaedic surgeon (a doctor who specialises in the treatment of bone diseases and fractures) will perform the operation.
Antibiotics are likely given before the surgery, during, and after to prevent infection. The procedure takes about two hours to perform and the patient will need to remain in hospital for several hours post-surgery. Pain medication will be provided for at-home use.
Are There Risks Involved?
Like all surgeries, there are risks to knee replacements. Common risks post-surgery include bleeding, infection, damage to the nerves and/or blood vessels as well as possible blog clots, or “pulmonary embolism”.
Patients, post-procedure, may also experience stiffness and decreased function of the knee despite the prosthesis, yet this may get better with time. Other side effects include loosening of the implants or failure of the implant itself.
Daily wear and tear on the prosthesis can damage it too, so it is important to ensure patients avoid high-impact sports and exercise post-surgery, such as heavy weight lifting. These activities can cause stress on the joint and result in the prosthesis wearing out. Most prostheses last at least fifteen years or longer.
Knee Replacement Recovery Tips
Immediately after knee replacement surgery, patients will not be able to drive themselves home. So, it is important to organise transport. Crutches, or a walker, will also be required after surgery.
Household chores will be challenging, particularly bathing, so arranging a caregiver or ensuring someone is close by can assist is key. Devices can be purchased to help protect falls and injuries post-surgery. Thinking about possible trip hazards and removing them before surgery is also recommended, such as loose rugs and wires.
Climbing stairs will also be difficult, so making space on the ground floor for recovery is advised. Placing a chair in the shower is also recommended to help with self-washing. A chair or a footstool nearby is also a good idea to help elevate the leg and reduce pain and swelling.
After surgery, mobilising the foot or ankle will also help prevent swelling and blood clots. Buying pressure stockings or compression boots may also assist with this.
Furthermore, a physiotherapist will advise what exercises are needed post-surgery to support recovery both immediately after and in future.