You're Having a Knee Replacement

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on October 9, 2018

You’re scheduled to have knee replacement surgery.

What can you expect during your stay in the hospital?

And how can you get your home ready for your weeks of rehab?

Being prepared for every phase of the process can definitely make a difference in how fast and well you recover.

Prepare Your Home

“A total knee replacement is major surgery, and healing will take time,” said Linda Franklin, R.N., a certified orthopaedic nurse at Carilion Clinic’s Institute for Orthopaedics and Neurosciences. As the ambulatory joint care coordinator for the institute, she acts as the liaison between patients and orthopaedic surgeon Joseph T. Moskal, M.D., as his direct care nurse.

How much time will recovery take? You’ll probably need to walk with a walker for at least two weeks or until your first post-op appointment.

Pain should lessen over the first six weeks, but it can come and go for up to a year depending on your particular surgery. You may also have leg swelling for up to a year.

So before you go to the hospital, follow Franklin’s tips to prepare your home:

  • Make sure you have a firm chair with arms
  • Put frequently used items within easy reach of your chair and bed
  • Remove scattered rugs and any cords
  • Think about how and where you’ll need to walk without tripping over pets
  • Consider preparing some meals ahead of time

At the Hospital

When you get to the hospital, you’ll be prepared for surgery by the perioperative team that includes nurses, techs, mid-level providers and an anesthesiologist, as well as your surgeon.

The surgery itself will take one and a half to two hours depending on the procedure, and you will then go to the recovery area until it is safe to send you to the orthopaedic floor.

During the rest of the day (in your hospital room) you will:

  • Be checked often by the nurses
  • See an advanced clinical provider and joint coordinator
  • Work with a physical therapist if you arrive on the unit early enough
  • Use a spirometer to take 10 deep breaths an hour
  • Do bed exercises

“Your length of stay in the hospital will depend on your progress and what your doctor feels is best for you,” said Franklin. Typically, a patient stays 24 to 36 hours.

In the day(s) after your surgery, you can expect to:

  • See physical and occupational therapists
  • Continue to do bed exercises
  • Keep taking deep breaths every hour
  • See a joint coordinator and a physician’s assistant
  • Continue pain management
  • Eat a more varied diet if you’re not experiencing nausea or vomiting
  • See a case manager to schedule home health care and order equipment you’ll need at home

Before you go home, you’ll be fitted for a walker and shown how to use it as you recuperate.

You’ll also learn how to:

  • Carry out a daily exercise program
  • Correctly stand up from a chair
  • Climb and descend stairs
  • Get in and out of a bathtub using a bath seat
  • Use the toilet (you may need a raised toilet seat)
  • Put on and take off underwear, pants, socks and shoes
  • Get in and out of bed
  • Use your walker to get in and out of a car

A family member is expected to attend each of your therapy sessions in the hospital, and you’ll be asked to show progress bending and straightening your knee before going home.

Finally, you’ll be advised on which medications to take and how to take them, and you’ll be instructed on how to prevent blood clots and infections.

“We see the results of all these efforts when people get home,” said Franklin. “It all helps them to recover as quickly as possible.”

When You Get Home

Once you’re home, you’ll be asked to avoid long-distance travel for six weeks.

You’ll also be asked to permanently avoid:

  • Impact sports and activities
  • Running and jogging
  • Crawling
  • Kneeling

As time goes on, you will be encouraged to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do your exercises every day
  • Play golf or doubles tennis
  • Try water aerobics
  • Swim
  • Bicycle
  • Join a walking program

Resuming Activities

Getting back to normal will of course take some people longer than others. Everyone responds to the surgery a bit differently.

You’ll be cleared to drive and resume other activities when your doctor feels it is appropriate.

You can also ask your doctor’s office for a temporary handicapped parking permit if you need one.

Is total knee replacement surgery a rite of passage? Absolutely.

It’s also a milestone that is becoming more common: The number of replacements performed each year in the United States continues to rise as Baby Boomers age.

Here’s to taking all the steps necessary to make yours a success.

This is part 2 of a two-part series on total knee replacement.

Part 1 explores whether a knee replacement is right for you, and how to prepare yourself for successful surgery.