The do's and don'ts after knee replacement

If you’ve just had a knee replacement or are considering taking the plunge, the healing process may seem a daunting prospect. However, there are plenty of ways to ensure a smooth recovery.

Our list of do’s and don’ts after knee replacement explores what you can do to give yourself the best chance of a full and speedy recovery.

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Recovering from total knee replacement surgery

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve either just had your knee replaced or have decided to have surgery. You’re probably wondering about knee replacement surgery timings and what the healing process looks like. So, let’s take a look!

The day after your surgery
A few hours after your joint replacement surgery, you will probably feel some pain and swelling. Don’t worry, you will be given some pain relief to help get you more comfortable.

When you’re feeling ready, a physiotherapist will come and help you stand up. You’ll be encouraged to walk a short distance using a supportive device. They will also show you how to safely perform some everyday tasks and movements.

It may seem a little early, but moving around can help to reduce the risk of blood clots and infections.

At this early stage, while it’s important to work on bending and straightening your knee, rest is equally crucial. Make sure to stop your exercises if you feel too much pain, and get plenty of sleep.

Days after surgery
Over the next few days, you’ll be encouraged to step up your mobilisation. This will incorporate walking and practising your everyday activities.

With support and mobilisation, you should be able to return home two to four days after your surgical procedure. Please note that if you are specifically having day surgery knee replacement, you will usually be discharged on the same day. You will be given some exercises to do at home and care instructions to take with you.

At this stage, you should be able to stand unassisted, start to walk without the help of crutches or a frame, dress and bathe yourself and go on longer assisted walks.

Weeks after surgery
Your recovery continues from the comfort of your home. Here you should continue the exercises given to you by your physiotherapist.

As the weeks go by you should notice your pain lessens and your range of movement improves. By the second or third week after surgery, you may be able to get around with just a walking stick or nothing at all.

Months after surgery
As you continue your rehabilitation exercises over the following months you will notice a big improvement in your pain levels and mobility. Your swelling and stiffness should go down and you will gain more strength to do your favourite activities.

This is the point where you may want to introduce some new exercises. Swimming, walking or cycling after a knee replacement can be very beneficial. Just be sure to check with your physiotherapist or medical professional first.

You should be able to drive again around six-eight weeks after surgery.

How long is recovery?

The time it takes for you to recover depends on a number of different factors. For example, your age, fitness and activity levels should be taken into account, along with how closely you follow the rehabilitation plan set for you by your physiotherapist.

With that said, most patients will be able to start resuming some normal activities within six weeks of surgery. Full recovery from knee surgery isn’t normally achieved until around 18 months after surgery.

What is the fastest way to recover from a knee replacement?

At Practice Plus Group, we follow the Enhanced Recovery Pathway (ERP). This is a modern, evidence-based approach that helps people speed up their recovery following major surgery. The ERP champions the many advantages of day surgery knee replacement. With this support you will be mobile enough to go home either on the day of surgery, or soon after.
Painkillers in the form of anti-inflammatories are administered upon discharge from hospital. This is to help with pain relief and to manage pain and swelling.

Getting up on your feet earlier can help to speed up the recovery process, as long as it’s done carefully and safely. Your physiotherapist will give you safe exercises to practise at home in the weeks and months after surgery.

Our top tips for a quick recovery are:

  • Keep mobile and stick to your recommended exercise programme
  • Attend your physio appointments regularly
  • Use mobility aids and supportive braces if recommended by your medical professional
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight to reduce stress on your new joint.

What do to after a knee replacement

There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself achieve a full recovery. Here are a few tips that will help you get back on your feet.

Prioritise rehabilitation and recovery

Getting back to your favourite activities should be your number one goal. This means doing your exercises, taking medical advice and focusing on rebuilding your strength and mobility.

Make time for rest

Rest is just as important as exercise when it comes to your recovery. This is particularly important immediately after your surgery.

You are likely to feel more tired than usual in the first six weeks at home. Maintaining a healthy balance between rehabilitation and rest is essential for a full recovery.

This may mean booking time off work, asking a friend or family member for some help around the house. Don’t be afraid to say no if you have too much on your plate.

Have patience in the process

Remember that healing takes time and everyone progresses at a different rate. Trying to do too much, too soon could result in your recovery taking longer and cause unnecessary pain or discomfort.

If you’re worried about progressing too slowly, talk to your doctor for advice.

Use ice packs to reduce swelling

You may want to try using ice packs or heat packs in the days or weeks after your surgery. This can help to ease swelling and pain. Apply the cold pack for around 20 minutes a few times a day until the swelling goes down. Your consultant should be able to offer more tailored advice.

Improve your overall health

Maintaining a balanced and varied diet that contains all the vitamins, minerals and proteins you need for recovery will encourage your body to heal.

Minimising alcohol consumption while maintaining a healthy body weight will reduce the stress placed on the new joint.

Smoking narrows your blood vessels and will likely prolong your recovery. Ask your doctor for resources aimed at helping you quit. He or she can also provide you with help and support to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Take your prescribed medication

It’s very important to take any prescribed medication during your recovery. This can be for pain relief or to manage an existing health issue. Talk to your doctor if you are having any issues taking it or are experiencing any adverse side effects.

Use walking aids or assistive devices

Assistive devices such as walking frames, crutches and walking sticks are designed to support you during your recovery. We understand it may take a little while to get used to, but the benefits are worth it.

Assistive devices take some of the pressure off your knee, helping you to balance. You may also want to consider investing in a ‘reacher’ or ‘grabber’. These enable you to pick things up off the floor without bending or squatting.

Keep up regular, gentle exercise

The rehabilitation exercises provided to you will play a key part in your recovery.

You may not feel like moving when your knee feels uncomfortable but it’s important not to give up! Staying mobile will help you to recover faster and improve mobility in the affected joint.

As your knee starts to heal, you may want to introduce more gentle exercises. You should consult your doctor before attempting these.

Low impact exercises such as swimming, walking, cycling (on a stationary bike) and gentle strength training can be very beneficial in your recovery.

Wear supportive shoes

Correctly fitting shoes that support your feet will aid your progress when out and about. Avoid flimsy footwear or flip-flops that come with a higher risk of slipping or tripping over.

Follow the advice of your medical professional

Whether it’s your orthopaedic surgeon, your physiotherapist or your GP – these professionals have your best interests in mind. Be sure to follow their advice for the best chance of a full recovery.

Specialist spotlight, Physiotherapy Manager Naomi Abdelmola
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What not to do after knee replacement

While your body is healing, it’s important to look after yourself and stay away from activities that could hinder your recovery. The following are activities you should avoid.

Don’t put too much pressure on your knee

Whether it’s lifting a heavy shopping bag or overdoing it on the golf course – physical activities that place excess pressure on your knee should be avoided while you’re still in recovery. Ensure your rehabilitation is a gradual process to avoid injury and unnecessary discomfort.

Don’t forget proper wound care

Proper wound care is essential to avoid infection and complications that could delay recovery. You will be given instructions when leaving the hospital or medical centre on how to care for your wound and how to keep it clean.

Don’t use a pillow directly under your knee in bed

While placing a pillow under your calf might feel comfortable, if you put the pillow directly under your knee it will cause it to bend. To avoid excessive stress on the new joint, you ideally want to keep your knee as straight as possible while sleeping.

Don’t kneel straight away

Talk to your doctor and physiotherapist to see when it’s safe to kneel.

Don’t sit with your legs crossed

Sitting in a crossed-legged position too soon after surgery can put excess pressure on your knee joint. When sitting down, you should try to keep your knees and feet pointing straight ahead.

Don’t sit in low chairs

Sitting on a low seat or sofa can make it tricky to get up again without putting undue stress on your knee. If possible, sit in firm chairs with back support and armrests until you are fully recovered.

Don’t sit in the same position for long periods

Sitting still in the same position for more than 45 minutes can increase stiffness in your knee. Instead, try to keep mobile and go for a short walk. You should also try to stretch regularly.

Don’t attempt any high-impact sports

High-impact activities or contact sports such as football, skiing or lifting heavy weights are best avoided throughout your knee replacement recovery period. They carry a high risk of falling which can damage your new joint. Any activity that requires twisting, jumping or running could place too much strain on your new knee.

When turning, rather than twisting, try to take small steps, move your whole body and keep your knees pointing forward.

Don’t partake in activities with a high risk of falling

During your recovery, avoiding ladders should extend to more than just walking under them. You shouldn’t try to climb them as a fall during your recovery stage could cause serious damage.

Don’t ignore pain

Ignoring severe pain when exercising or doing any activity could result in strain and delay in your recovery. If you are finding the pain hard to manage, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to prescribe further pain relief options and check if anything is wrong.

What should I avoid after knee replacement FAQs

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far, but if you’ve still got questions about knee replacement surgery, our dedicated FAQs can help!

You may feel a little stiff and uncomfortable immediately after your surgery. Working with your physiotherapist will help to regain your mobility and strengthen the affected area.

You should also practise bending your knee – by the time you leave hospital, you should be able to bend your knee between 70 – 90 degrees.

It’s important not to overextend yourself during the recovery process. If you experience persistent or increased knee pain, discomfort or swelling while doing any physical activity, it’s best to ease off and seek medical advice.

Walking is a relatively safe and accessible exercise during your recovery period. However, it’s best to start with shorter distances and gradually build up as your strength and mobility improve. Rest is just as important as regaining your strength.

While placing a pillow under your calf might feel comfortable, if you put the pillow directly under your knee it will cause it to bend. To avoid excessive stress on the new joint, you ideally want to keep your knee as straight as possible while sleeping.

For the first couple of days after surgery it may be difficult to climb stairs. However, by the time you leave hospital (usually 2 to 4 days after surgery), you should be able to climb stairs using an assistive device or supporting yourself with your upper body. While you’re still in hospital, your nursing team will practise navigating stairs with you.

Ideally, you should be exercising your knee a little every day. While you recover, you shouldn’t be afraid to push yourself, but you will need to find a balance to avoid injury. Your physiotherapist will provide you with a personalised recovery plan which will detail how often you should exercise. If you’re unsure, they should be able to advise how frequently you need to exercise, or if you are struggling to stick to your plan.

Are you ready to relieve pain and get back to the activities you love? Talk to us about knee replacement surgery to see if it could be an option for you.

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