What is the recovery time on a knee replacement?

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Knee replacement may be recommended when a knee is damaged beyond repair by arthritis or injury. Typically, total knee replacement is performed only after medications, altered activity and walking supports have proven ineffective. Knee replacement surgery can restore motion and relieve pain. Since the procedure was first performed in 1968, great advances have been made. Now, approximately 581,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed within the United States each year, the majority of which prove effective with a minimal recovery period lasting only a few weeks.

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Effectiveness of Knee Surgery

Over 90 per cent of patients who undergo knee replacement surgery report a significant increase in mobility and a dramatic reduction in pain. Although recovery is usually relatively quick, certain types of activity---including high impact sports and jogging--typically are not an option after knee replacement surgery. For the majority of patients, total knee replacement provides them with sufficient mobility for years to come, following the recovery period. However, normal wear and tear may cause the replaced joint to eventually need additional medical intervention, and obesity or excessive activity can increase the rate of problems with replaced knees.

The Procedure

Knee replacement surgery is an in-patient procedure that generally takes around two hours. It is performed under anaesthesia by an orthopaedic surgeon, who removes the damaged cartilage and bone of your knee and replaces them with metal and plastic surfaces. Typically, following the surgery, you are transferred to the recovery room for one to two hours to ensure you awake and recover successfully from the anaesthesia.

Hospital Stay

Following knee surgery, most patients remain in the hospital for several days. This allows doctors to treat any pain that follows the surgery, and to ensure your lungs do not become congested as a result of the surgery and anaesthesia. To avoid blood clots, and minimise swelling, doctors and nurses may fit your knee and leg with special support hose, or compression boots. You may also be prescribed blood thinners during this time. Finally, a continuous passive motion exercise machine may be used to slowly move your knee while you remain in bed, in order to restore movement, improve circulation and reduce swelling.

Period of Recovery

Most patients resume normal activity within three to six weeks after returning home from knee surgery, and are able to drive again within four to six weeks, when their muscle control is sufficient to ensure they can accelerate and break with appropriate speed.

This period of recovery involves some essential activities and wound care. Initially, you must soak the wound in water and/or keep the wound bandaged as directed by your surgeon, until the stitches or staples are removed. Patients must also gradually begin to walk, sit and stand to restore mobility to the knee. They must perform physiotherapy exercises as recommended.

Complications

Complications are rare and occur in less than 2 per cent of patients. Complications can include infections in the knee joint and heart attack/stroke as a result of surgery or anaesthesia. The most common complication of knee surgery is blood clots, but the risk of clots can be minimised or reduced by elevating legs, performing recommended exercises, wearing support stockings, and/or taking blood thinners as prescribed.

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