The recovery period after a knee replacement is just as important to a successful healthcare outcome as surgery itself. Travis Clegg, M.D., board-certified orthopedic surgeon says, “a lot of time patients will come in ready to get their partial or full knee replacement and they’ve got questions about recovery and what to expect.”

If you suffer from bad knees, knee replacement can offer a way out of your pain. Each year, more than 750,000 of these procedures occur in the U.S. with a high success rate. More than 90% of knee replacements are still holding strong 20 years after the surgery. 

The procedure is also incredibly safe—less than 2% of patients experience complications after knee replacement surgery. Due to its high success rate, knee replacement surgery is one of the most effective treatments for knee pain, especially for patients who have not found relief from other procedures or therapies.

Curious to learn if knee replacement surgery is right for you? In this article, we’ll hear more from Dr. Clegg about what happens after knee replacement and what you should expect from your procedure.

What Happens During Knee Replacement?

Knee replacement is a surgery that removes damaged components within the knee joint and replaces them with a prosthetic to increase mobility and alleviate pain. With advances in surgical technology, these procedures can be performed in an outpatient setting using minimally invasive techniques that avoid damaging the tissues around the knee. 

Dr. Clegg says, “In general, all are now outpatient procedures. We do least invasive protocols. We do rapid recovery protocols so people are up walking about an hour after surgery and they’re able to go home the same day.”

During a minimally invasive knee replacement surgery, the surgeon will use precision tools to access the joint, preparing the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) and the upper end of the shin bone (tibia) for the insertion of a prosthetic. After clearing out and replacing the worn-out joint surface and cartilage, a layer of plastic is inserted between the metal components, allowing the joint to glide smoothly along its axis.

 As one of the most effective procedures for knee pain and mobility issues, people often seek knee replacement surgery after other therapies have failed. Few other treatments can reduce the significant pain caused by arthritis and the “bone on bone” friction caused by damaged cartilage. 

For these patients, the improvement from knee replacement surgery can be life-changing. The significant benefits of knee replacement include:

  • Increased mobility
  • Lower pain
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased social functioning
  • Less stiffness
  • Enhanced vitality

While minimally invasive knee replacement isn’t for everyone, it’s a great option for anyone experiencing long-term knee pain from arthritis or injury, and who may not have found relief from other procedures.

How Long Is the Recovery After Knee Replacement?

Man sitting down having knee attended to by medical professional

The first three months of recovery after knee replacement surgery are important for ensuring the long-term use of your new knee. Dr. Clegg says, “I tell them the average return to work for these patients is four to six weeks. That can vary and I tell people to take as much time as they need off work and we’ll support them.”

How well you recover depends on how closely you follow your doctor’s protocols. Dr.

Clegg says, “We try to individualize our recovery protocols for each patient because everyone’s expectations are different. Everyone’s pre-surgery levels are a lot different.”

During this period, your goal should be to rest and work on bending and straightening the knee. Dr. Clegg says, “Usually, what I tell people, is the first couple of weeks (after surgery) we want to really take it easy. You get up and move around a little, you do your stretches, but you’re not up for hours and hours at a time.” “That’s primarily because you’re in that recovery mode and you’re healing.”

What Happens After Knee Replacement?

Most patients are up and walking again about an hour after they wake up from anesthesia. Your doctor will work with you to identify your pain levels and treat your pain as you move around with a walker or crutches. The studies show that this early movement puts circulation back into the leg and speeds healing.

During your recovery, your doctor will recommend targeted therapies to increase mobility in your leg, helping you adjust to your new knee. As part of the healing process, your physical therapist will instruct you on how to move around safely, change your bandage, and lead you in exercises to gradually strengthen the joint and surrounding tissue. 

Some patients experience moderate pain, which doctors will help you manage with medications and exercises. Your physical therapist may also prescribe cold therapies (ice packs) and compression bandages or stockings to improve circulation and decrease inflammation. You can expect to take longer to complete basic activities such as going to the restroom or even moving from the bed to a chair. Be patient with yourself. Your number one goal during this time is to heal.

What Kind of Exercise Can I Do After Knee Replacement?

Man jogging in the woods holding injured knee while wife assists

Knee replacement surgery offers patients an almost immediate increase in mobility and pain relief, even with

in hours after the procedure. Dr. Clegg says, “I probably have more trouble with people doing too much in the first two weeks instead of not enough. This is just because their knee feels good for the first time in a long time and they feel like they want to do more.” It’s important not to overdo it, however. To avoid over-exerting yourself, be careful to follow your doctor’s personalized instructions for a better health outcome. 

After about four to six weeks, you should notice some dramatic improvements in the knee. Swelling and inflammation should decrease as your range of motion improves. Dr. Clegg says, “As far as walking, we want people up and walking frequently and we just slowly increase the distance. It’s not uncommon for somebody to come back and see me at 10 weeks and they’re walking three or four miles a day at that point.” 

Usually by the 12th week, in addition to walking and physical therapy, most patients can ride a stationary bicycle and perform most normal activities. However, at this point, you’ll still want to avoid high-impact activities like running, basketball, or skiing. From about three to six months, you will gradually improve mobility as you slowly strengthen the knee.

It will then take six months to a year for your knee to be as resilient and strong as it can be. 

Are you experiencing knee pain? Get the relief you need with a surgical team that cares. Dr. Clegg and his staff are standing by to help and are here to answer your questions. Call us at 1-812-945-5633.