Congrats on your new knee! You’re one of 600,000 Americans who get the joint replaced every year. You may be thrilled to walk again without pain or no longer face staircases with dread.
But don’t expect superhuman powers just yet. Here are seven things to know about your newest body part.
- You can do (almost) everything as before.
You can usually expect huge improvements in pain and mobility after knee replacement. But if you never ran a mile in your life, you won’t win races with your new knee. In fact, most surgeons recommend you stay away from high-impact exercises like jogging or jumping rope, even if you did them before. The sheer force can loosen or break your implant or make it wear out faster. Skiing, mountain biking, and even kayaking also may be off-limits because of the chance that you could fall and the break bones around the implant.
You’ll still have lots of other ways to stay active. You can walk, swim, bike, do light hikes, and even play doubles tennis. Weight training will give you stronger muscles and bones. Be sure to ramp up by doing more reps instead of adding heavier weights.
- It won’t feel exactly like your old knee.
You’ll have less pain, for one. You also may notice other strange differences. For example, your new knee may click and pop. That’s the sound of the metal and plastic in your implant rubbing against each other. If it doesn’t hurt, you don’t need to worry. You might have trouble kneeling. Bending down won’t harm your new joint. But about half of all people who have knee replacement surgery say they don’t like the feeling when they kneel.
- Your new knee will be with you for a long while.
Almost nine out of 10 people find that their new body part holds up for at least 20 years. Even 2 decades after their surgery, people who’ve had their knee replaced tend to be more physically active than their same-age peers with natural knee joints. You can save wear and tear on your new knee by keeping a healthy weight.
- You may need extra time at the airport.
Chances are, your knee implant will almost always set off the airport metal detector. That can trigger a hand pat-down screening by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent. If the security checkpoint has a full-body scanner, you can go through that instead. You may still be searched a second time if the agents think they see something suspicious on the screen. You can print and carry a small TSA notification card to let the agent know you have an artificial knee, but this will not always stop them from searching you again. You also can speed things up by wearing clothes that easily let you reveal your surgical scar.
- You needn’t worry about visits to the dentist.
For years, both orthopedic surgeons and dentists recommended that people with artificial knees or hips get a shot of antibiotics before any dental procedures, including simple cleaning, that might make gums bleed. They worried that bacteria in the mouth could get into your bloodstream and reach the site of the implant. In 2015, the American Dental Association said it was no longer routinely needed. People with knee implants whose immune systems are weak or who may be prone to infections may still need antibiotics before a dental procedure.
- You may need new habits for your knee.
Even if you’re able to return to full normal after your surgery, you’ll need to mind your artificial knee for the rest of your life. Avoid lifting anything more than 20 pounds. That can stress the joint too much. Don’t jerk the leg with the implant. Turn by taking small steps. Pivoting sharply -- your toes pointed in one direction and your thigh and upper body in another -- can damage the implant and wear it out sooner.
- Sometimes, you have to have repeat surgery.
Nearly one out of 10 people end up needing to repair or replace their artificial knee. More than two-thirds of these operations are done within the first year, usually because the joint gets infected. Repeat surgeries that happen later more often involve a loose implant, which can be painful or can leave your knee unstable. Always keep a watch on your artificial joint. If you suddenly have pain, swelling, and trouble moving, call your surgeon.