I see a lot of patients with total knee replacements in the clinic, and one thing that is very common is, especially at the beginning of the rehab process, a lot of the patients are surprised of the length of time, the amount of work, and also the pain at the beginning that they have to go through in the recovery from that surgery. So I want to give you an idea of exactly what will happen. So that if you do decide that you need or you want to have a knee replacement, it will not surprise you. You’ll know what to expect after a knee replacement. I have some patients who told me, “if I had known this, I would not have done it.”
But you know what? The thing is, there comes a point that if you really need it. You can’t walk anymore, you’re in pain all the time, or a lot of pain all the time. It doesn’t matter how hard a recovery process is, you will have to do it. But at least you can make that decision. It’s an informed decision.
So this is what to expect after a knee replacement. A lot of times people, patients stay in the hospital for couple of days this is if nothing goes wrong. This is barring any medical complications. They stay there maybe two, three days depending on the surgeon, the hospital, or sometimes the insurance plan. They can get discharged going into either, one, a skilled nursing facility, subacute care. Or a home therapist will visit the patients at their house. The home therapist will start the exercises and train them to walk.
After that, patients most of the time will undergo outpatient physical therapy. But even though the patients are undergoing outpatient physical therapy, they still have to do exercises on their own. They will still have to do things on their own. Now, the whole recovery process from a total knee replacement can be around six months to a year. That’s the time frame that I like to give my patients, six months to a year to be back to their full function. Now, it all depends on how you heal. A lot of my patients by three months, they usually stop their outpatient physical therapy already. Six months is a good time frame for them to be feeling either no pain, or just little bit of pain here and there.
They should be able to do most of their regular activities, meaning walking and climbing steps. They should be back to work sooner than that, depending on the type of work that they’re doing. So usually three months, if they’re healing properly, they go back to work three, four months. So six months is a good time frame to say that the patient should be functioning pretty much normal and independently. But overall, it’s six months to a year. If you have other medical problems like diabetes, then that takes longer. I usually estimate the recovery for people with diabetes double the length of time.
Now, what should you expect during the physical therapy or even when you’re doing it at home? One, after the surgery, definitely you are going to feel pain. The first couple of days you may not be because they will have the anesthesia. They usually give you narcotics and pain medications so you won’t be in a lot of pain. But once the anesthesia wears off, once they stop giving you the narcotics and pain medications, you’re going to start feeling the pain more.
Some of my patients don’t feel a lot of pain, some patients do. It depends on your pain tolerance. The thing is, you will have to bear with some of that pain. It’s unusual that patients do not feel, I’ve seen those patients that they don’t feel pain or they have very minimal pain. But that’s not very common. So do expect the pain there. Do expect to put a lot of work in, because you will have to move that knee. You will have to do your stretches. You have to do your strengthening exercises and your icing, because that will help keep the swelling and inflammation down.
The moving, the stretching, those exercises are very important because you don’t want that knee to get stiff. You don’t want to have to go having manipulation under anesthesia later on. So early mobilization is key, very frequent mobilization is key there, and then of course the strengthening exercises. You can start with isometric, going to resistance exercises and functional exercises.
Those will be difficult at the beginning because of the pain, inflammation, and swelling. A lot of times patients will feel that their knee is very stiff. You have to bear with that, you have to keep doing your exercises, you have to keep doing the stretches. So it will not be easy. Be prepared to have some pain or discomfort. Be prepared to have some sleepless nights the first few weeks. Most of the time, that gets better as you go away from the surgery.
And I’m not saying all these to scare you. I have a lot of patients who undergo that. My mom is one of them. She underwent her knee replacement couple years ago. Now she’s actually thinking of having the other knee done because the other knee is actually giving her problem now. It will give you kind of like a new lease on life once you recover.
But there is a road to recovery there. I’m not trying to scare you. I just want to make sure that you understand what you’re signing up for, what you’re getting into. You will have to put the work in. You will have to bear with some of the pain, some of the discomfort. But once you pass that and once you recover from the surgery, you’ll be glad that you had it done. In most cases, my patients are glad to had it done.
So now, at least you know what to expect after a knee replacement. Some of my patients say, “Oh, my doctor didn’t tell me this, they told me three months, two months, and I’m good”. It depends. The definition of good is relative. This is the way I am with my patients. I just want to be as upfront as possible so that when you do have the replacement, when you know what to expect after a knee replacement, you’ll be more prepared and then you’ll put in the work, you’ll have a more successful outcome.
I hope this gives you a clear idea of the recovery process that’s involved after a knee replacement. Thank you very much for your time, I hope this helps you out. If you know anybody who will have or is having or had a knee replacement, please share this with them so that they can be prepared also, or they know what they have to do or what they’re going through is part of the process.
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