Recovering from Knee Replacement Surgery

After surgery, you'll be taken to the recovery room and monitored for several hours. After you awaken from anesthesia, you'll be taken to your hospital room. Typically, you'll remain in the hospital for three to four days, depending on your recovery. You may feel some pain that will be managed with medication to make you as comfortable as possible. To avoid lung congestion after surgery, you should breath deeply and cough frequently to keep your lungs clear.

Possible Surgical Complications

The rate of medical complications following knee replacement surgery is extremely low. Serious infections, such as a knee joint infection, occur in less than 2 percent of patients. The most common cause of infection occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream during dental procedures, urinary tract infections or skin infections. After surgery, take antibiotics before dental work or surgical procedures.

Blood clots in leg veins are the most common complication of knee replacement surgery. Clots can be life threatening if they move to the brain, lungs or heart. Your orthopedic surgeon will have a blood clot prevention plan that may include leg exercises and elevation, medication and support stockings. If you experience any symptoms of blood clots, you should call your surgeon immediately. Symptoms include persistent swelling in your leg, pain in your calf or behind your knee and calf warmth or redness.

Physical Therapy

Walking and knee movement are very important for recovery. Usually the first day after surgery, you'll begin to work with a physical therapist who will teach you exercises to regain full leg and knee movement. During your hospital stay, you'll attend physical therapy one to two times a day. An occupational therapist and nurse discharge planner will help you prepare for your return home.

Your doctor may recommend a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine that bends and straightens your knee. You may be given special elastic stockings to reduce swelling. An anticoagulant medication, such as lovenox, also may be administered to help circulation and prevent blood clots.

Post-Hospital Care

Once you return home, it is very important to follow your orthopedic surgeon's instructions, particular during the first few weeks after surgery.

Caring for Your Incision: You'll have stitches or staples running along your wound or suture beneath your skin on the front of your knee. These will be removed two to three weeks after your surgery. Call your surgeon immediately if your incision swells, drains, becomes reddened or painful, or you develop a temperature over 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before leaving the hospital, your incision will be covered with a dry dressing. You should change the dressing as instructed and avoid getting it wet until your wound has healed.

Physical Activity: Being physically active is an essential part of recovery. Within three to six weeks, you should be able to resume most normal physical activities. During the first few weeks of recovery, a physical therapist may teach or help you perform specific exercises to strengthen your knee and leg. Other recommended physical activities include graduated walking and normal household activities to increase your mobility.

Don't push yourself. Avoid falling, which can damage your knee and require further surgery. Use assisting devices, such as a cane, crutches, walker and hand rails, or the help of caregiver until your knee is strong and mobile.

Follow-Up: During the first year after surgery, routine follow-up visits are scheduled with your orthopedic surgeon at three weeks, six weeks, three months, six months and 12 months. You'll be asked to return for annual visits to assess the status and function of your implant.


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Arthritis & Joint Replacement Center
1500 Owens St., Suite 430
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353–2808
Fax: (415) 885–3862

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