We rely on specialist surgeons and their teams to do the major – and specialist - part of the work that’s needed to replace and repair a damaged knee. However, we need to be involved in our recovery process too. Read our tips to find out what you can do.
Part of your recovery may take place before you even have the operation. When you meet your surgeon for your pre-operative appointment and tests, they are likely to suggest that you do exercises to strengthen your quadriceps, (the muscles at the front of your thigh, above your knee) that are often weakened when you have arthritis.
If your quadriceps are reasonably strong before your knee operation, it will help your recovery. The stronger the muscles, the sooner you’ll be up on your feet.
Find a good physiotherapist
According to Arthritis Research UK, the best exercises are those that involve lifting your foot against gravity. Your physiotherapist will show you the best moves to strengthen your quads.
Read our guide to knee replacement surgery
The first 24 hours after knee replacement surgery
Once your operation is over, and you’re back on the ward, the nurses and physiotherapists will help you to get up and moving as soon as you can – usually you’ll be standing, with assistance, within 24 hours of your op.
If you are on an enhanced recovery programme you may be on your feet and walking on the day of your operation. However, this will depend on your overall health, so check with your medical team.
Walking canes for mobility
When you’re first up and about, you’ll need a walking frame or crutches, to help support you. If you had the operation with a spinal anaesthetic or nerve block you won’t be able to feel very much in your leg for a couple of days. You need to be very careful if this is the case, as you may be at greater risk of falling over.
If there’s a risk that your wound may take some time to heal, or that your ligaments may not be strong enough, staff at the hospital may fit you with a temporary brace, known as a cricket pad splint. This is to help support your knee until your quadriceps are strong enough to do the job on their own.
You’ll usually be able to go home once your doctors and nurses can see that your wound is healing. They’ll also want to see that you’ll be able to get about safely with a walking frame or crutches.
How to protect your new knee at home
It’s important to be well prepared before you leave hospital, so you should be given advice from experts in your team, to help keep you safe.
Your occupational therapist or physiotherapist should give you advice on how to cope at home before you leave hospital. They will explain the best ways to get dressed, shower and move about without damaging your knee, and how to reduce your risk of falling over.
You may need equipment at home to help you move about and do everyday activities, such as a raised seat for the toilet, and a chair in the shower, for instance. Your physio and occupational therapist (OT) should assess and organise the equipment you’ll need.
Making follow-up hospital appointments
Before you leave hospital talk to your team about the follow-up hospital appointment to check on how you’re doing (usually about six weeks after your operation). If you had to stop taking any regular medication before your surgery talk to one of your doctors about when you should start taking it again.
At home after knee replacement surgery
If you live on your own, or live with someone who can’t care for you, it’s a good idea to see if you can arrange for some help from family and friends for your first few weeks at home. See if there’s someone who can pop in regularly to check that you’re OK, someone who can come over for a chat, maybe someone who could do some food shopping for you (unless you do this online).
Exercises following knee replacement surgery
You also need to take care of your new knee so carry on doing the exercises you’ve been given by your occupational therapist, as this will help your recovery. If you still have stiffness in your knee joint after six weeks of doing the exercises, make sure you tell your surgeon or a member of his team at your six-week appointment.
Coping with swelling after a knee replacement operation
Your new knee may still feel painful for up to six months. If it goes on longer than this talk to your GP. You may also find that it takes some time for the swelling around your knee, and the ankle and foot on the same leg to go down. This usually improves as you get better at walking.
You can help reduce the swelling by resting your foot on a stool or something similar, as long as it’s above the height of your hip. Putting an ice pack, or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel, on the swollen area can also help. Be careful not to let the ice pack come into direct contact with your skin, as it could damage it.
Warning signs following knee replacement surgery
Watch out for the signs of blood clots in your legs following the operation. These include hot, hard, red or painful areas. If you have these symptoms talk to your GP or nurse as soon as you can, as they may need treating quickly.
If you start having chest pains, and/or find it hard to breath following your operation, get medical help as soon as possible. It’s possible that you may have a blood clot on your lung. If this is the case it will need treating urgently.
Saga Private Medical Insurance provides cover for joint replacements, including hip and knee replacement surgery.