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Recovering from Knee Replacement: What to Expect

If you’re considering joining the nearly 5 million Americans who get a knee replacement each year, you’ll be glad to learn that over 90% of knee placement patients experience a dramatic reduction in pain, and most have significant improvement in their mobility. But the key to a successful outcome begins during recovery.

When you’re ready to replace an injured or diseased knee for a new, functional one, Dr. Matthew J. Gargulinski, an expert orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at OasisMD in San Diego, Encinitas, and Temecula, California, and the other highly qualified providers are here to guide you through the entire process. 

Our team wants you to understand each step of the surgical process. We’ve put together this guide to tell you what to expect as you recover from knee replacement surgery. 

Have your home prepped for your recovery

While knee replacement surgery means you’ll eventually be able to move with comfort and ease, the first few weeks at home may be a challenge if you don’t take steps to prepare your environment. 

Have a comfortable chair or sofa with an ottoman set up so that you can rest in locations outside of your bed. Move area rugs out of the way to reduce the possibility of tripping, and ensure you have a clear space for walking to the restroom, doors, and kitchen. 

Physical therapy is essential for a full recovery

The knee replacement surgery itself is only the first step on the journey to a functional, pain-free joint and the return to an active lifestyle. Full recovery takes a commitment to actively participate in physical therapy (PT) during the weeks and months following your surgery. 

PT begins immediately 

Motion is integral to recovering well after knee replacement surgery. You’re encouraged to get up and out of the hospital bed the same day as your surgery. Within 24 hours after surgery, you’ll begin walking and standing using a walker and the assistance of your therapist. You’ll also be given gentle exercises to strengthen your muscles and help you move correctly. 

PT continues at home

For about three weeks after your surgery, expect to continue with physical therapy at home or in a rehab facility. Keeping the joint in motion helps prevent immobility, scar tissue buildup, and stiffness. As your strength, balance, and mobility continue to improve, you’ll start walking with less dependence on a walker, crutches, or cane. 

Soreness and swelling around the knee joint are common in the weeks following your surgery. Don’t let these discourage you from continuing your physical therapy. Rest and elevate your knee when you aren’t engaged in exercise, and use ice to reduce the swelling as needed. 

3-6 weeks post-surgery

Starting at about the third week, most patients begin riding a stationary bike in PT as they continue strength training and mobility work. These exercises focus on the muscle groups that aid in stability, such as the quads, hamstrings, and hip muscles. Your provider may also recommend ankle weights depending on your needs. 

Your continued recovery depends on your health and mobility before the surgery. If you were in good health and led a relatively active lifestyle before having your knee replaced, it’s reasonable to expect to be walking without assistance six weeks post-op. 

7-10 weeks post-surgery

During these final weeks of physical therapy, your provider continues to exercise your knee and add more complex exercises to your regimen. You’ll also start exercising for longer periods of time, though you’ll need to avoid any high-impact activities or exercises that place too much stress on the knee joint. 

Until Dr. Gargulinski or your provider at OasisMD clears you for more intense exercises, choose low-impact activities like swimming, weight training, or riding a bicycle as you begin reclaiming your active lifestyle. 

Everyone is different. What works may not be successful for you. Though most people are fully recovered in six to eight weeks for a partial knee replacement and 10-12 for a total knee replacement, this varies among patients. Listen to your body, so you don’t injure your knee or suffer a setback. 

Have realistic long-term expectations

Even though your knee may be recovered in about three months, it can take up to one year before you’re able to fully engage in pre-surgery activities. Patients who are overweight or were relatively sedentary before knee replacement surgery can expect to have a longer recovery than an athlete. 

Every runner in a marathon takes different amounts of time to cross the finish line. The same is true of knee replacements. Take your recovery step-by-step at a pace that works best for you, and your knee will respond. 

If you’re ready to take the first step toward knee replacement surgery, contact Dr. Gargulinskski at OasisMD in San Diego, Temecula, or Encinitas. You can also book a consultation online now!

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