Benefits of Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Your knees are one of those joints that you take for granted until pain and discomfort have limited your mobility. Suddenly, it becomes more difficult to do the things you love — like climbing the stairs to your favorite reading nook or squatting to pull out the mixer from the lower kitchen cabinet so that you can make your famous brownies. Whether the reason for your knee discomfort occurred overtime or more suddenly, you’re probably already wondering about your options.

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Depending on the severity and cause of your knee pain, your doctor may suggest total knee replacement surgery. This medical procedure can help you increase mobility and also significantly decreases — often eliminating — the pain caused by chronic conditions. You can return to your favorite reading nook or celebrate with a batch of brownies because total knee replacement surgery will have you back to living in full motion.

Signs You Need Total Knee Replacement Surgery

While total knee replacement surgeries are typically conducted on people who are 55 or older, they can also be needed for younger individuals as well. Your orthopedic doctor will be able to determine if total knee replacement is right for you or if other alternatives should be attempted first. Common signs that you may be a good candidate for total knee replacement surgery include:

  • You have knee osteoarthritis or other chronic knee conditions
  • You have pain and stiffness in your knee(s) every day
  • Your knee(s) are so painful that you have trouble with daily activities such as climbing stairs, dressing, bathing, or preparing meals
  • Your knee(s) are unstable and often give out
  • You have a knee or leg deformity
  • You took medications, experienced weight loss, or used injections to try and relieve pain, but saw limited to no results

Preparing for Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Once your doctor has determined total knee replacement surgery is the best next step for your knee pain, then you can schedule and begin preparing for your procedure. First, you’ll want to prepare your home and make sure that it’s safe and comfortable for when you return. Think about how you’ll move around, what rooms will you be staying in the most and what rooms do you need to get to? Look at the paths you’ll take to ensure you can walk around your house without slipping or falling. Create a home prep checklist that includes:

  • Temporarily removing any rugs
  • Checking that your carpets lay flat in all rooms and on stairs
  • Moving furniture to make a clearer walking path
  • Making sure your main room — such as the living room — is comfortable and will make you feel at ease.
  • Choosing a comfortable chair that has armrests and a good backrest
  • Setting up a bed on the main floor to help limit your use of stairs
  • Checking the lighting to make sure the room is well lit to help you avoid slips and falls
  • Moving any kitchen items that you may need within easy reach — including healthy snacks
  • Checking that your bath mats are slip-resistant
  • Finding a family member or friend to drive you to and from your procedure and assist you during recovery

In addition to your home logistics, you may need to make some lifestyle changes before the procedure. Smoking or other forms of tobacco can increase your risk of complications during and post-surgery. Because of this, you should quit smoking four to eight weeks before your surgery.

You should avoid shaving your knee(s) seven days before the procedure. To help prep your skin and reduce your chance of infection, you’ll cleanse your skin before total knee replacement surgery. This involves wiping your skin with chlorhexidine gluconate cloths. Make sure to avoid touching your eyes, ears, or mouth after using the cloths. Talk to your doctor about the proper steps of cleansing your skin before using the chlorhexidine gluconate cloths.

What to Expect During Surgery

Total knee replacement surgery is a fairly safe procedure, with some patients returning home on the same day. You’ll be given anesthesia — and once asleep, your surgeon will begin operating on your knee. This involves cutting a six to 10-inch long incision along the side of your knee and removing damaged cartilage to replace with the artificial joint.

Once the procedure is done, you’ll be taken to a recovery room for a couple of hours. When everything looks good, you’ll be discharged to go home. If your surgeon has concerns about complications you may be required to stay overnight. Your doctor will also discuss what to expect post-surgery.

If you’ve been discharged, your doctor will provide detailed instructions on which medicines to take, for how long, and when — including instructions for aspirin. Aspirin is a blood thinner that can help prevent blood clots post-surgery. You’ll often be required to take it up to five days after the procedure. Other discharged instructions may include:

  • Moving your feet or ankles to promote blood flow
  • Breathing exercises
  • Wearing support hose to reduce swelling

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

A physical therapist will show you different exercises to do to help promote healing and strengthen your muscles. You will need to do physical therapy for 30 minutes, about two to three times a day. Depending on your PT plan and progress, you may be required to do exercises up to six weeks after the procedure.

Total Knee Replacement Recovery Time

To ensure you experience a speedy recovery, you’ll need to follow your doctor’s recovery plan — including doing the exercises provided by your physical therapist. During the first few weeks of your recovery, you should avoid putting your knee in direct sunlight. You will also need to keep it clean and debris-free. Eating a high-protein diet helps promote healing. Try including at least one high-protein food in your meals.total-knee-replacement-2

The recovery process differs slightly for everyone. It can take a month to two months for a patient to be able to drive on their own — and up to two months for a patient to be able to take care of themselves and return to normal activities. How quickly you’ll fully recover is based on how well you follow recovery plans, your age, and the severity of your condition. Some patients begin to see the full benefits of the surgery within four to six months, while others won’t fully heal until closer to a year.

How Long Does a Total Knee Replacement Last?

About 85% of total knee replacement surgeries last 20 years. Through improvements in technology and medicine, your joint replacement can help you get back to living your life in full motion. But, there are some restrictions. You should limit or avoid running and jumping. Any athletic sports after surgery will require a knee or leg brace — and high-intensity sports should be avoided altogether. To get the most from your knee replacement surgery, you should talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about pushing the limits or keeping your knee joint safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

After fully recovering and being approved by your doctor, you can go back to enjoying all low-impact activities. This includes:

  • Cycling
  • Calisthenics
  • Swimming
  • Low-resistance rowing
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Low-resistance weightlifting
  • Stationary skiing machines
  • Bowling
  • Croquet
  • Golf
  • Doubles tennis
  • Table tennis
  • Ballroom and square dancing

Higher impact sports come with greater risks, and you should consult with your doctor before participating in any of those types of sports or activities. High-impact sports often include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Jogging or running
  • Rock climbing
  • Hang gliding
  • Parachuting
  • High-impact aerobics

While some joint replacements are made of ceramics and plastic, they also largely include metal. Because of that, 90% of knee replacements will cause metal detectors — such as in airports — to go off. However, because knee replacement surgery is such a common practice, there is no need to worry about your easy clearance.

Because it can take one to two months to be able to drive on your own, you should expect not being able to return to work before four weeks post-surgery. For some people, it may take as long as six weeks to recover enough to go back to work — especially if your job is labor-intensive or physically demanding.

Most people can return to having sex within one to three months after total knee replacement surgery. However, you may be restricted on which positions you can perform. Some sex positions can cause complications with your new joint if not yet fully healed. You should take things slow or talk to your doctor about any limitations.

Until you’re fully recovered, sleeping on your back is the most optimal position. You should prop the operated leg with one or two pillows — being careful not to have pillows directly behind the knee. After a few weeks, you can sleep on the non-operative side of your body. But, make sure to keep your operative side facing toward the ceiling. It is extremely unsafe to sleep on your stomach after total knee replacement surgery and will be painful to sleep on the operative side.

Do You Have Chronic Knee Pain?

Knee pain can be very serious and should be looked at right away. Our dedicated team is ready and able to create an individualized surgical and non-surgical treatment plan for any patient in need.

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