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If you are considering knee replacement surgery, you probably have questions and concerns. Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. If you have others, please don’t hesitate to ask your surgeon or other members of your joint replacement team.
You might be a candidate for knee replacement surgery when other treatments no longer relieve severe pain and loss of function. Joint pain and immobility usually occur when the cartilage that protects and cushions the joints wears down. When this happens bones rub directly against each other, causing further damage and pain.
Not everyone is a candidate for knee replacement surgery. Your overall health is taken into account. If you have a history of other health problems such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, surgery might not be right for you.
Total knee replacement surgery involves replacing the knee joint with an artificial joint made of metal, plastic or ceramic materials. Materials used in making your artificial joints are strong and designed to last a long time inside your body. To work on the knee, your surgeon will make an incision across the front of your knee to gain access to the patella, more commonly referred to as the kneecap. Additional information about knee replacement surgery.
Joint replacement is major surgery. Although advances in technology and medical care have made joint replacement safe and effective, there are risks. You should discuss these risks with your surgeon, and they should be considered carefully before you decide to have surgery. The most common risks include:
Before surgery you will need to have a physical exam and preadmission testing, participate in preoperative education classes and prepare your home for when you return after surgery. While these steps can take a few weeks, they will help you achieve long-term success after your knee replacement surgery.
Typically, you will stay in the hospital one to three days after surgery, depending on how quickly you progress with physical therapy. Once you’re able to walk longer distances and are making consistent progress, you’ll be ready to go home.
Most patients will shower on the second day after surgery while still in the hospital. When you return home you may need a shower seat and a hand-held showerhead to help you bathe comfortably and safely. Your surgeon may also instruct you to cover your incision when you bathe.
Your surgeon will follow your care throughout your hospital stay. It is likely that you’ll see your surgeon, physician assistant or nurse practitioner several times while in the hospital recovering. You will also have a follow-up appointment at the orthopedic clinic two to four weeks after surgery.
After surgery, you will notice discolored skin, some swelling and drainage around your incision. This is normal. If you experience painful redness, abnormal swelling or thick, bad smelling drainage from your incision, you might have an infection. A temperature over 101°F also could indicate an infection.
Placing a pillow between your legs should help keep your knee comfortable and stable. You may sleep on your back or on either side, depending on what makes you most comfortable.
Taking antibiotics is a precaution to help ensure that your new artificial joint does not become infected. Additional surgeries or dental work increases the chances of infection. No matter where the infection starts, if it spreads to your new knee, the results could be very serious. When artificial joints become infected, they must be removed surgically and then replaced. Please let your dentist or physician know that you’ve had joint replacement surgery. This is important no matter how small or straightforward the procedure.
Recovery is a gradual process. Walking and physical therapy exercises will help speed your recovery.
Returning to work is highly dependent on the type of work you do, as well as your own recovery progress. If you have an office or desk job, you can expect to return after four to six weeks. With more physical jobs that require lifting, extensive walking or travel, you might need up to three months to fully recover. Your surgeon will tell you when you can return to work and if there are limitations.
In most cases, you will be able to resume driving about four weeks after surgery. To drive, you must be off pain medications. However, you should not drive a car or any other motor vehicle until your surgeon says it’s okay to do so.
It’s important to keep your new joint moving. However, you should return to normal activities gradually. You will be instructed by your joint replacement care team to avoid specific positions that could put stress on your new joint. Avoid high-impact activities, and consult your surgeon before participating in a new exercise routine or a physically demanding sport.