Knee Replacement Surgery, Pain & Recovery

Knee replacement surgery, also called knee arthroplasty, is a common procedure performed on damaged knee joints when non-surgical options have been exhausted.  People over the age of 50 who suffer pain and decreased mobility due knee damage, often as a result of osteoarthritis, are the usual candidates for the operation.

Although knee replacements have advanced dramatically in the last decades, with most lasting 15-20 years, the decision to have one is something that should be discussed seriously with your doctor. The surgery involves cutting away damaged bone at the thigh, shin, and kneecap, to be replaced with an artificial joint; the materials depend on factors like your height, weight, age, and other medical conditions, but they’re usually a combination of metal alloys and polymers.  The surgery itself takes only a few hours.

Following the knee replacement, you’ll likely stay two to three days in the hospital to begin your recovery. During this time, you’ll be administered medication to help manage pain and begin the important process of physical therapy: although movement of the legs will be uncomfortable, it’s essential to recovery.  Moving the ankles, feet, and knees stimulates blood flow to the muscles, which helps them heal and prevents blood clots as well as preventing them from atrophying. A physical therapist will guide you through exercises designed to help you regain function in the knee without damaging it.

You’re probably wondering about pain levels following the surgery — they vary for everyone, although the procedure has become much less painful as its progressed over the years. Doing your physical therapy, especially in the days after the operation, goes a long way toward preventing and alleviating stiffness and pain, so it’s important to keep up with it as long as your doctor feels is necessary (usually no more than 3 months).

Once you’re at home, ease back into physical activity: remove tripping hazards like rugs and excess furniture, get a shower chair, and arrange furniture to accommodate your cane or crutches. Avoid stairs in the beginning, don’t try to walk too fast, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.


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