Managing Recovery after Total Knee Replacement


Undergoing total knee replacement surgery is a significant step towards relieving chronic knee pain and restoring mobility. However, the success of the procedure often hinges on how well you manage your recovery. This doesn’t have to give you anxiety! Here are some essential tips to help you navigate the recovery process smoothly:

1. Get Ready Before The Big Day
Prior to surgery, you will meet with your orthopedic surgeon and their team. Ask questions! Even the ones you think are silly. The more prepared you are and feel, the smoother your recovery will go! So, ask questions, ride your bike / do strengthening and stretching exercises, maintain a balanced diet, and stay hydrated. Check out our PatientIQ app for tips, tricks, and what to expect when you schedule surgery with us.

2. Follow Your Doctor’s Instructions
Immediately after surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will provide detailed instructions regarding wound care, pain management, and rehabilitation exercises. It’s crucial to adhere to these guidelines. This includes taking prescribed medications on time (keep a medication log), keeping the surgical site clean and dry, and attending follow-up appointments.

3. Manage Pain and Swelling
Pain and swelling are common after every total joint replacement. This can be especially difficult for total knee replacements as we have to find the balance between your exercises and rest. We must mitigate the inflammation in order to work on your range of motion, and, in turn, improving your range of motion will then improve your pain! We have to find your body’s balance point. One of my recommended tricks is the use of a frozen water bottle and ice massage of the thigh area to help with increased throbbing or spasm in the first few weeks from surgery! Additionally, to alleviate discomfort, your surgeon may prescribe pain medications or recommend over-the-counter options.

4. Begin Physical Therapy Early
Physical therapy plays a pivotal role in restoring knee function and strength post-surgery. Start your physical therapy sessions as soon as your surgeon advises - even if you aren’t feeling up to it. These sessions will include exercises to improve inflammation, pain, flexibility, strengthen muscles around the knee, and regain range of motion. Consistency and commitment to your physical therapy regimen are key to achieving optimal recovery.

5. Gradually Increase Activity Levels
While it’s important to rest and allow your knee to heal initially, gradually increasing your activity levels under the guidance of your physical therapist is crucial. Begin with short walks using a walker or cane, and gradually progress to longer walks as your knee strengthens. Another tip is to use time as your measure instead of distance. For example, start with a goal of a 5 minute walk twice daily and increase by an extra 2-3 minutes each week! Avoid high-impact activities and follow your therapist’s advice regarding appropriate exercises.

6. Maintain a Healthy Diet
A balanced diet rich in nutrients like vitamins C and D, calcium, and protein is essential for promoting healing and strengthening bones and muscles. Focus on incorporating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your meals. Adequate hydration and electrolyte replacement is also extremely important for overall health and recovery.

7. Ensure a Safe Home Environment
Make your home recovery-friendly by removing obstacles that could cause tripping or falling such as throw rugs or mats. Consider installing grab bars in the bathroom or the use of a shower chair for added safety during bathing. Consider arranging furniture to create clear pathways - practice maneuvering around the house with your assistive device (cane, walker, etc) to ensure spacing.

8. Stay Positive and Patient
Recovery from total knee replacement is a gradual process that requires patience, perseverance, and team work! It’s normal to experience good days and setbacks along the way. Allow your body the healing rest when it needs; and then work hard on your physical therapy when it allows. Find that balance! Stay positive, celebrate small victories, and communicate openly with your healthcare team about any concerns or challenges you may encounter. It’s always better to check than to let your frustrations or worries boil.

9. Know When to Seek Help
While discomfort and swelling are expected during recovery, certain symptoms may indicate complications. Contact your surgeon if you experience severe pain, acute increased swelling, redness or excessive heat around the knee, fever, or difficulty breathing. Prompt medical attention can prevent serious issues and promote a successful recovery.

Recovering from total knee replacement surgery requires dedication to following medical advice, commitment to rehabilitation both before and after procedure, and patience with the healing process. By taking proactive steps to create a plan, manage pain, engage in physical therapy, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you can significantly improve your chances of achieving a full and successful recovery and and get back to doing the activities you love!

NOTICE: MRI imaging at our Providence office is currently unavailable due to construction. We appreciate your patience as we work to improve your experience!