What to expect after knee replacement surgery

What to expect after knee replacement surgery

Find out everything you need to know about knee replacement surgeries including when they are needed, how to prepare for surgery and what to expect after a knee replacement surgery

One of the most effective and successful surgeries performed in the UK is knee replacement surgery. Allowing people the ability to live their life with less pain and more mobility, knee replacement surgeries have become a crucial cornerstone in enabling an ageing population to work and enjoy life. However, while knee replacement surgery is mostly performed on those aged 60 to 80, anyone who has sustained significant knee injuries or is living with a health condition that affects their mobility can benefit from a knee replacement.

Knee replacement surgery is performed when a person’s knee joint has been worn out or damaged to such a degree that their mobility is impaired and/or they experience extreme pain and discomfort – even when they are not moving. Such surgeries are considered very safe and very effective. Knee replacement surgery first began over 50 years ago – with many of the breakthroughs occurring during the 1970s and 1980s.

Knee replacement surgeries should last 10-15 years. However, a recent study of more than 500,000 patients over 25 years has shown that 93% of total knee replacements lasted 15 years, 90% lasted until 20 years, and a remarkable 82% made it to 25 years. Although not as long-lasting, partial knee replacements still posted an impressive reliability rate – with 70% lasting 25 years. As these statistics are based on older knee replacements, it is expected that today’s replacements will last longer – meaning that most people receiving a knee replacement won’t have to worry about the prospect of further surgery.

However, one aspect of surgery that can pose a problem is the period of time after the surgery. The recovery and rehabilitation process can be quite difficult. People can feel frustrated or restless as their body recovers in the months following surgery. In this article, we detail information you should know about knee replacements and what to expect after knee replacement surgery.

Why is a knee replacement needed?

If a person is experiencing reduced mobility or is in pain at all times, even when not putting strain on their knee, then it is likely that the knee joint is damaged or has been worn down over time. For many, treatments such as steroid injections and physiotherapy may help with the pain and discomfort associated with these problems.

However, if these treatments do not work, then a partial or total knee replacement may be required. You can be offered surgery on the NHS if:

  • the pain or discomfort is affecting your quality of life and/or sleep patterns,
  • everyday tasks, like bathing or going to the shops, are difficult,
  • there is swelling, stiffness or pain that is severe and is affecting your mobility,
  • you can’t go to work or have a social life,
  • the pain or reduced mobility is causing depression

Several underlying conditions or injuries can necessitate the need for knee replacement surgery. In 2016, the primary diagnosis behind 99% of knee replacement surgeries was osteoarthritis – however, other conditions and injuries that affect the knee joints can include:

  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Haemophilia
  • Knee injury or deformity
  • Avascular necrosis

Differences between partial and full knee replacement

There are two types of surgeries offered based on the condition of the knee and its prognosis: total knee replacement (TKR) or partial knee replacement (PKR). Total knee replacement (the most prevalent surgery) involves the replacement of both sides of the knee joint, whereas partial or half replacement sees only one side of the joint being replaced.

A PKR, sometimes referred to as unicondylar knee replacement (UKR), is the preferred option as it allows for more of your physical structure to be kept intact. It also means that you will have a shorter operation, hospital stay and recovery/rehabilitation period. There can also be a lesser chance of complications and risks. However, as with all surgeries, a PKR comes with its own risks – such as higher surgical revision rates than TKRs. A surgical revision means you may need another surgery at some point.

Both total and partial knee replacement surgeries come with their fair share of risks, including:

  • Wound infection
  • Unexpected bleeding
  • Nerve, ligament or artery damage in the knee joint area
  • Stiffness
  • Blood clots and/or DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Persistent pain
  • Joint instability
  • Fracture of bone during or after the operation

Preparing for surgery

If you want to request a knee replacement surgery, you should ask your GP for a referral. While you wait to be seen by a consultant, there are a number of things you can do to ensure approval for surgery and for recovery.

You’ll want to make sure you’re in good health before the operation – that includes good dental health too. If there are bacteria from a dental problem, it can get into your bloodstream and cause problems – such as infection.

Exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee are also vital – particularly your quadriceps (front of the thigh) as these muscles can be weakened by osteoarthritis. Stronger muscles equal a faster rate of recovery.

You’ll have a pre-surgical meeting with a consultant who will perform several tests, including blood tests and electrocardiograms (ECGs). This is also the opportunity for you to ask questions about the surgery – or address any concerns you have regarding the operation and your knee replacement recovery.

With that said, preparing for your recovery and rehabilitation is also essential. You’ll want to re-arrange/declutter your home due to your mobility being limited – including moving things around so that important items are never out of reach.

Stocking up on food and household essentials is a good idea as it will reduce the number of shopping trips you would have had to make post knee replacement surgery. It may help to enlist the help of a friend or family member to help you with everyday tasks like shopping and meal preparations until you’re back on your feet. If you’re unable to do so, our home care and live-in care workers can assist with everyday tasks while you recover.

What to expect after knee replacement surgery

Both total knee replacements (TKR) and partial knee replacements (PKR) surgeries come with very few complications – hence why tens of thousands of people receive them every year. You’ll be given an anaesthetic – likely either a spinal anaesthetic or an epidural. You’ll remain conscious throughout the operation, but you will be numb from the waist down for the duration of the procedure.

The operation will take somewhere between 45 minutes to two hours. Afterwards, you’ll be taken to the recovery room and supplied with painkillers and fluids through an IV. After the first day, the tubes will be removed – but you may have a catheter placed to help with going to the toilet for the first few days. You may not feel pain at first due to the heavy painkillers, but, as they wear off in the days after the operation, you may start to feel sore.

You should be moving around with a day or two, and you should be able to return home in about three to five days. You will need to walk with a walking frame or crutches as you recover. You’ll have a follow-up hospital appointment about six weeks after the procedure and, by then, you should be able to walk without an aid. If you drive, then you can expect to be back behind the wheel in two or three months.

It will take some time until you fully recover. In fact, it can take up to two years for your muscles and scar tissue to recover and heal. However, if you can keep yourself active and motivated, without pushing yourself too far, the duration of your rehabilitation will be shorter. Due the time it takes to recover, it’s vital that you have someone there to support you.

Immediately after the operation, it’s a good idea to have a friend or family member to stay with you for a few days until you can adapt to your surroundings and move more freely. However, you’ll need help, in the long run, to deal with cleaning your home, shopping and collecting prescriptions. If you’re unable to receive assistance from a friend or family member, you can rely on our home care or live-in care workers to support you through the recovery process.

Better Healthcare home and live-in care after a knee replacement surgery

Having independence is important to everyone. But when a knee replacement surgery is required, it can be challenging to maintain independence without support. At Better Healthcare Services, we provide home and live-in carers to help people recovering from a knee replacement surgery with daily tasks without impeding on their independence.

Our bespoke home care and live-in care services are tailored to the requirements of our clients. Whether it’s to do the shopping every few days, give your home a weekly clean or to help with your rehabilitation efforts, our polite and friendly carers will only ever offer you the support that you want.

Our carers have a lot of experience in supporting people through their rehabilitation efforts – particularly those who have received a knee or hip replacement. This experience ensures that our clients’ knee replacement recovery efforts are a success.

For more information about the availability of our carers – whether or not you have had or are waiting for your surgery – please call Better Healthcare Services on 0800 668 1234. Alternatively, get in touch with your local Better Healthcare Services office by consulting the list below.

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This post is not health advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current healthcare issues.