What to Expect After Total Knee Replacement Surgery

Jun 9, 2017

Erica Reali

by Erica Reali
PT | Ahwatukee Location

Rehabilitation after a total knee replacement surgery is a vital part of the process needed to get you back on your feet and into your active lifestyle. Once you and your physical therapist have developed a customized plan, it’s important that you stick to it. The benefits of completing a comprehensive physical therapy program will allow you to regain independence sooner, avoid potential complications, and improve long-term mobility.
Rehabilitation begins immediately after surgery—within the first 24 hours you will be expected to bear some weight on the knee, as well as take a few steps with assistance of a therapist. The therapist will demonstrate exercises designed to improve your knee’s range of motion and strength. The surgeon may also suggest the use of a continuous passive motion machine, which slowly moves the knee through flexion and extension.
Typically, patients can leave the hospital within one to five days. The criteria for discharge usually consists of being able to get in and out of bed, walking short distances with assistive device, flexing the knee 80-90 degrees, dressing, and bathing—all with only minimal pain or supervision.
Before discharge, your surgeon will direct you on how to take your prescribed pain management medications and on the use of a compression stocking to prevent deep vein thrombosis. It’s important to follow all guidelines provided by your physician.
Attending physical therapy and committing to a rehab plan will fast-track you to your active lifestyle. Your therapist will work on improving your knee’s range of motion gradually and show you exercises to reinforce knee mobility. You will also begin quadricep (muscles on the front of the thigh) strengthening exercises so that you can wean off the assistive walking device.
Swelling is controlled through use of ice and elevation of the lower extremity. Patients typically see a gradual reduction in lower extremity swelling over three to six months. By the third month, there should be reduced pain, restored knee range of motion and strength, and a return to light recreational activity, such as biking and swimming.
Of course, individual recovery rates may vary depending on a number of factors, including pre-surgical health, age and comorbidities. Over time the pain level should subside, and in most cases you will feel near 100% after a year. However, it’s necessary to maintain contact with your medical team and have periodic follow ups to ensure a full recovery.
These are only guidelines for what to expect after a total knee replacement. Physical therapists can play an important role in achieving your goals, so stop by one of our conveniently located Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy locations. We work closely with your surgeon to help build a comprehensive physical therapy program so you can return to your active, normal life as quickly as possible.

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