Total Knee Replacement: Surgery Pain, Recovery, and Risk

Constant severe knee pain makes knee replacement surgery seem like a great option, but undergoing a major surgery like this can be scary. Today, I’m going to talk about what you can expect after a total knee replacement surgery.


Right After Surgery. When you first get out of surgery, you’ll be taken to a recovery room for a couple of hours. Here you will be monitored as you recover from being under anesthesia. Hospital staff will be there to help you every step of the way, and you will be prescribed pain medication and blood thinners to prevent clotting.


After you’ve left the recovery room, you’ll be taken to the orthopaedic floor. On the same day as your surgery, you can expect to be up and moving around. It’s important that you work with the hospital staff to move your new knee joint as soon as possible to promote mobility and blood flow to your leg muscles. Staying mobile and wearing support hose or compression boots helps to further prevent swelling and blood clots.


You can expect to stay in the hospital for one or two days after surgery depending on your situation. I don’t believe in sending my patients home the same day as the surgery unless they have a medical professional who is willing to wait on them at all times— assisting with bathroom trips, making sure medications are taken on time, monitoring vital signs, checking for blood clots, and constantly looking out for other problems. Going home too early is unsafe for patients and unfair to caregivers.


Heading Home. After a short hospital stay, you’ll be released to either go home or to a rehabilitation center. You can return home if you’re in good physical health, your home is prepared for joint replacement recovery, and you have someone who can care for you.


You might also be sent home with a visiting nurse or physical therapist, depending on your physical health. A rehab center is the safer option if you live alone or have no one who is available to care for you in the weeks following your surgery.


For the first few days, you will use a walker to get around the house or center before transitioning to a cane. How long the cane is needed varies from patient to patient. Some people need it for just a few more days but many use it for two or three more weeks. It all depends on your physical condition and how your recovery is going.


Over the next few weeks, you’ll work with your medical team to strengthen the area around your new joint. Do your exercises just like they tell you, and stay diligent with your wound care. If your right knee is replaced, it is not safe to drive for four to six weeks after surgery. You also shouldn’t drive if you’re still using narcotics to manage your pain.


What are the Risks? All surgeries come with some form of risk, and knee replacement surgery is no different. It’s rare but possible for an infection to develop around the new knee joint after it has been placed. There’s also a risk for vascular problems, such as blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.


Even with today’s advanced medical technology, all artificial joints will wear out after a couple decades or so. High-impact activities and excess weight put more stress on artificial knee joints, causing them to wear out faster than they otherwise might.


Though there are risks, I believe they are worth taking if your joints are interfering with your everyday life. I’ve performed countless successful knee replacements and seen first-hand how they can completely transform lives for the better.