knee being prepped for surgery
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Surgery: What Happens in the OR

You'll get anesthesia, either "general," which puts you to sleep, or "spinal" or "epidural," which blocks pain below your waist. The operation usually lasts 1 to 2 hours. The surgeon will make a cut over your kneecap, remove damaged parts of the joint, and attach the new joint, usually with a type of cement. You'll spend a few hours in recovery before being moved to your hospital room. 

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legs fitted with compression stockings
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Post-op: Waking Up After Surgery

You may have a drainage tube for blood that collects around your knee. You'll have an IV tube, usually in your arm, to replace fluids and give you pain medication. And you may have a catheter in your bladder. You'll probably wear compression stockings to keep blood flowing smoothly. You may get antibiotics to prevent infections and blood thinner meds to prevent clots.

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patient being assisted by orderlies
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Day 1: Recovery Begins

You'll need to get moving to get your strength back and avoid problems. A physical therapist will get you on your feet and teach you to pump your ankles to encourage blood flow. You may try walking. Breathing exercises will keep your lungs clear and prevent pneumonia. If you had surgery as an outpatient, you’ll do rehab exercises at home.

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physical therapist working on knee
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Day 2: Road Back to Routine

You can probably switch to pain meds that you take by mouth instead of IV, and eat a regular diet. You should be able to get to the bathroom with a little help. You'll still work with a physical therapist. And you'll be taught how to watch for signs of possible problems like an infection, clots, or chest congestion.

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Day 3: Time to Wash Up

By now, your surgical wound may be healed enough for you to shower. If your doctor says it's OK, remove the dressing, shower, gently pat the wound dry, and put on new dressing. Don't rub the area with any lotions or creams other than what the doctor prescribes. Wait until it's well-healed and the stitches or staples have been removed -- usually after 2 weeks -- before you take a bath or get in a pool.

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woman on crutches leaving hospital
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Days 3-4: Return Home

If you had surgery as an inpatient, it's time to say goodbye to the hospital. Before you leave, you may be able to get in and out of a bed or chair, without help, and use the bathroom. You may also get around using crutches or a walker. Some people recover best with a short stay in a rehab center, where trained help is always around.

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Week 1: Caring for Yourself

You'll use some tips you learned at the hospital about how to keep your wound clean and change your dressing. Some swelling is normal, but watch for redness, a fever, or other signs of an infection. A bag of ice or frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel can help with pain. A physical therapist may visit you at home. Try to walk every couple of hours when you're awake.

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woman on crutches with home healthcare worker
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Week 2: Take It Easy

Hopefully, in the weeks before your surgery, you organized your home so it's easy to move around, and you arranged for a caregiver to help with daily activities and car rides. Take short walks often, but use a cane, crutches, or a walker until you are stable. Your bandage, and any staples or stitches, can usually be removed after about 2 weeks.

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senior woman working in garden
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Weeks 3-6: Back in Action

You should be able to get back to most of your normal activities. Swimming and riding a stationary bike are easy on your knee. You can have sex again whenever you feel comfortable. If you're a gardener, you can kneel after a couple of months, though it may be uncomfortable at first. Golf or dancing are fine, but avoid high-impact sports like jogging or basketball.

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woman shopping for pain relievers
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Week 4: Cut Back on Painkillers

Most people no longer need narcotic pain medicine. They may switch to an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. But ask your doctor whether it's OK to take them if you also use blood thinners.

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family in car
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Week 6: Driving Again

Don't rush to get back behind the wheel. You need to have enough range of motion and be free enough of pain so that you can work the pedals without hesitation. You might have to wait 6-8 weeks before you can do that.

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Weeks to Months: Going Back to Work

When you can return to your job depends on what you do for a living. If you spend a lot of time sitting, you may be able to go back as early as a few weeks after your surgery. If you do something that's more physical, it might be several months.

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doctor showing patient knee xray
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Year 1: Follow-up Care

Ask your surgeon, but a typical schedule might be doctor visits at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, and then once a year after that. Follow your doctor's advice to protect your new joint. More than 90% of modern replacements are still working 15 years after surgery.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/22/2018 Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 22, 2018

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

 

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6)         PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini

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13)        Martin Barraud / OJO Images

 

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Activities after a knee replacement," "Total knee replacement: Outcomes," "Total knee replacement."

Emory Healthcare, Total knee replacement surgery FAQs: "Can I have sex after total knee replacement surgery?" "Can I kneel after total knee replacement surgery?" "How long will I be on pain medication after total knee replacement surgery?" "How long will I be in the hospital after total knee replacement surgery?" "What activities are permitted following total knee replacement surgery?" "When can I return to work after total knee replacement surgery?"

Marc DeHart, MD, clinical assistant professor, Department of Surgery, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College of Medicine; clinical assistant professor, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; spokesman, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Northwestern Orthopaedic Institute: "Activity and athletics after knee replacement surgery."

Scottsdale Healthcare: "Total joint replacement hospitalization timeline."

St. Helena Coon Joint Replacement Institute: "Knee: Pre and post surgery."

UCSF Medical Center: "Recovering from knee replacement surgery."

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 22, 2018

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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