Adjusting to Life After a Knee Replacement Surgery

A knee replacement surgery, also known as knee arthroplasty or a total knee replacement, is a surgical procedure that is used to replace the surfaces of the knee joint to relieve disability and pain. It is a standard procedure in people with osteoarthritis and other knee diseases such as psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. A majority of people report a dramatic improvement in their mobility and reduced pain levels after undergoing a knee replacement surgery. However, the knee replacement surgery and the recovery period that follows can be characterized by pain, bruising, and swelling, and it may take some time before you are able to move around as you like. Here’s everything to know about what your daily life will look like after a knee replacement surgery.

Adjusting To Life After a Knee Replacement Surgery

After a knee replacement surgery, it is common to experience several challenges as you recover from the procedure.(1,2,3) For most people, the recovery phase can last for 6 to 12 months, and in some cases, it may take even longer.(4) Knowing what your daily life is going to look like after the surgery will help you manage your activities and chores more effectively and also make the most out of your new knee.(5,6)

Here are some adjustments you will need to make in your daily life to make your recovery easier.

Getting Back To Work

You need to set some realistic expectations about when you can return to work. After a knee replacement surgery, it typically takes around three to six weeks before you can go back to work. However, if you work from home, you may be able to resume your work within ten days itself.(7)

If your work is labor-intensive, though, you are likely to need a longer time away from work, around three months or more, depending on the exact nature of your work.

It is essential that you don’t put too much expectations on yourself on the very first day back. Speak with your boss and co-workers and let them know of your situation. It is best to ease your way back into working full hours. You don’t want to put too much strain on your new knees right after the surgery.(8)

Starting Driving Again

One of the biggest focus of most people is when they can start driving again after a knee replacement surgery. For most people, it is possible to start driving again after 4 to 6 weeks post-surgery, but it also depends on what your doctor says.(9) Never begin any activity that puts a strain on your new knees without consulting your doctor.

According to orthopedic research experts, if you have undergone surgery on your right knee, it is possible to start driving again in approximately four weeks.(10)

While it may take longer to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission, but you should be able to bend your knee sufficiently to operate the pedals by the end of four weeks after your surgery.

However, it is important that you do not drive if you are taking narcotics or any other medications that may impair your ability to drive a vehicle. Even the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that you check with your doctor before getting behind the wheel again after having a knee replacement surgery.(11)

Can You Travel After A Knee Replacement Surgery?

Travelling, especially if you have to take a long flight, can be tough on the body after a knee replacement surgery. This is primarily because of the lack of legroom in flights. While you can travel after about three to four weeks of your surgery, here are some tips to have a better experiencing inflight:

  • Flex each foot up and down at least ten times every hour or so
  • Travel wearing compression stockings
  • Stretch and walk around the plane every hour or so
  • Regularly rotate each foot at least ten times clockwise and the same number of times anticlockwise also.

Wearing compression stockings and mild exercising during the flight can help prevent the development of blood clots. Otherwise, there is also a possibility of swelling in your knee due to changes in the cabin pressure while traveling.

It is recommended that you consult your doctor before undertaking any long-distance travel. This will let you know of any concerns your doctor may be having about you traveling, especially during the first couple of months after the surgery.(12)

While traveling, you are likely to face more of a challenge from airport security than anything else. This is because the metal parts present in the artificial knee can set off the metal detectors at the airport. So it is best to be mentally prepared for extra screening at security checks. Wear clothing that you can lift up easily to show your knee incision is required.(13)

Resuming Household Chores After The Surgery

It is possible to resume your household chores like cleaning, cooking, and other daily tasks as soon as you start feeling comfortable about being on your feet and moving around the house comfortably. It is best to wait a couple of weeks before you can put aside your cane or crutches completely and resume most of the daily chores.

However, it may take a couple of months before you can kneel without feeling pain. In the meantime, you can consider using a pad or sometime of cushion to protect your knees if you are kneeling.(14)

Resuming Sexual Activity

Most people are able to resume sexual activities within a few weeks following a knee replacement surgery. It is fine to proceed if you don’t feel any pain and are comfortable with moving your body. It is recommended, though, that you only proceed after getting a go-ahead from your doctor.

Exercising After A Knee Replacement Surgery

You will need to undergo physical therapy with a licensed therapist after your knee replacement surgery. Your physical therapist will help you in improving your movements so that you can resume walking at the earliest. You will first begin to start walking with an assistive device, but you should only use it till it is absolutely needed. Walking without the help of a device will help you speed up your recovery and also regain strength in the affected knee.(15)

It is important that you work together with your physical therapist during the first few weeks after your surgery, as your therapist will be able to detect any knee problems. After approximately 12 weeks, you will be able to start walking for longer distances and also begin to resume other activities.(16)

When it comes to exercising, it is a good idea to begin with swimming or other types of water exercises as these are low-impact exercises that do not put strain on the knee. However, you have to ensure that your wound has healed completely before you enter a pool.

Doing leg lifts on weight machines and placing weights on the leg needs to be avoided for the first couple of months or until you get the go-ahead from your doctor or physical therapist.

Remember that your new knee will make it easier for you to take part in a wide variety of activities. However, it is also essential that you do not put too much strain on the knee joint immediately after the surgery. You must give the joint sufficient time to heal correctly.

The following activities are recommended by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

You must avoid any activities that involve twisting, squatting, lifting heavy objects, and other types of movements that can damage your knee.(17)

What Type Of Clothing To Wear?

For the first few weeks after the knee replacement surgery, you should wear loose, light clothing that allows you to move around easily. However, this might not be possible in the winters. In the winters, dress as comfortably as possible, while also ensuring that you are wearing enough layers to not feel cold.

You will have a scare left over after the surgery, the size of which depends on the exact type of surgical procedure you have. While the scar will fade over time to some extent, but many people feel conscious about the scar. Wearing long pants or longer dresses can help hide the scar and protect the wound during the recovery period. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen and clothes that will protect your knee from direct exposure to the sun, especially in the beginning.

Getting Any Other Surgery Or Dental Work Done

For at least two years after a knee replacement surgery, you remain at a high risk of infection. Due to this, you may have to take a course of antibiotics before getting any invasive surgical procedure or dental work done.

Since the practice guidelines for this may change, it is best to consult your dentist or doctor before you undergo any type of surgical procedure or dental work.(18)

Conclusion

Getting back to your typical day to day life after a knee replacement surgery can take several months to even a year. After the surgery, however, you may be able to resume activities that you could no longer do due to your knee pain. There will be a dramatic improvement in your quality of life and ability to move about more easily than before.

Remember that it is important to work out and do the things you can do easily without pain at every stage of your recovery as directed by your doctor and physical therapist. They are likely to recommend some activities and sports that are best suited to your needs.

Consult your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist if you have any questions about your recovery, physical activities, and your healing process. They will be the best guide you have during this process to help you navigate around your day and your life after a knee replacement surgery.

References:

  1. Carr, A.J., Robertsson, O., Graves, S., Price, A.J., Arden, N.K., Judge, A. and Beard, D.J., 2012. Knee replacement. The Lancet, 379(9823), pp.1331-1340.
  2. Judge, A., Arden, N.K., Cooper, C., Kassim Javaid, M., Carr, A.J., Field, R.E. and Dieppe, P.A., 2012. Predictors of outcomes of total knee replacement surgery. Rheumatology, 51(10), pp.1804-1813.
  3. Dieppe, P., Basler, H.D., Chard, J., Croft, P., Dixon, J., Hurley, M., Lohmander, S. and Raspe, H., 1999. Knee replacement surgery for osteoarthritis: effectiveness, practice variations, indications and possible determinants of utilization. Rheumatology (Oxford, England), 38(1), pp.73-83.
  4. AAHKS Hip and Knee Care. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://hipknee.aahks.org/total-knee-replacement/> [Accessed 26 January 2021].
  5. Bertin, K.C., Bertin Kim C, 1993. Knee prosthesis provisional apparatus and resection guide and method of use in knee replacement surgery. U.S. Patent 5,258,032.
  6. Räsänen, P., Paavolainen, P., Sintonen, H., Koivisto, A.M., Blom, M., Ryynänen, O.P. and Roine, R.P., 2007. Effectiveness of hip or knee replacement surgery in terms of quality-adjusted life years and costs. Acta orthopaedica, 78(1), pp.108-115.
  7. Jorn, L.P., Johnsson, R. and Toksvig-larsen, S., 1999. Patient satisfaction, function and return to work after knee arthroplasty. Acta orthopaedica Scandinavica, 70(4), pp.343-347.
  8. Bardgett, M., Lally, J., Malviya, A. and Deehan, D., 2016. Return to work after knee replacement: a qualitative study of patient experiences. BMJ open, 6(2).
  9. Nunez, V.A. and Giddins, G.E.B., 2004. ‘Doctor, when can I drive?’: an update on the medico-legal aspects of driving following an injury or operation. Injury, 35(9), pp.888-890.
  10. Dalury, D.F., Tucker, K.K. and Kelley, T.C., 2011. When can I drive?: brake response times after contemporary total knee arthroplasty. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®, 469(1), pp.82-86.
  11. Orthoinfo.aaos.org. 2021. Activities After Knee Replacement – Orthoinfo – AAOS. [online] Available at: <http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00357> [Accessed 27 January 2021].
  12. Citak, M., Klatte, T.O., Suero, E.M., Lenhart, J., Gehrke, T. and Kendoff, D., 2015. Are patients with preoperative air travel at higher risk for venous thromboembolism following primary total hip and knee arthroplasty?. Technology and Health Care, 23(3), pp.307-311.
  13. Ball, S.T., Pinsorsnak, P., Amstutz, H.C. and Schmalzried, T.P., 2007. Extended travel after hip arthroplasty surgery. Is it safe?. The Journal of arthroplasty, 22(6), pp.29-32.
  14. Hawker, G., Wright, J., Coyte, P., Paul, J., Dittus, R., Croxford, R., Katz, B., Bombardier, C., Heck, D. and Freund, D., 1998. Health-related quality of life after knee replacement. Results of the knee replacement patient outcomes research team study. Jbjs, 80(2), pp.163-73.
  15. Isaac, D., Falode, T., Liu, P., I’Anson, H., Dillow, K. and Gill, P., 2005. Accelerated rehabilitation after total knee replacement. The knee, 12(5), pp.346-350.
  16. Artz, N., Elvers, K.T., Lowe, C.M., Sackley, C., Jepson, P. and Beswick, A.D., 2015. Effectiveness of physiotherapy exercise following total knee replacement: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC musculoskeletal disorders, 16(1), pp.1-21.
  17. Bradbury, N., Borton, D., Spoo, G. and Cross, M.J., 1998. Participation in sports after total knee replacement. The American journal of sports medicine, 26(4), pp.530-535. Slullitel, P.A., Oñativia, J.I., Piuzzi, N.S., Higuera-Rueda, C., Parvizi, J. and Buttaro, M.A., 2020. Is there a role for antibiotic prophylaxis prior to dental procedures in patients with total joint arthroplasty? A systematic review of the literature. Journal of bone and joint infection, 5(1), pp.7-15.

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