If you’ve decided to undergo knee replacement surgery, you’re probably looking forward to living an active and pain-free life. As you may already know, osteoarthritis (or degenerative arthritis) resulting from the wear and tear associated with injury or a lifetime of stress on your joints, can create the type of pain that limits activities and greatly affects quality of life. While treatments such as pain medicine, physical therapy, exercise and therapeutic injections may limit the pain you experience, ultimately, replacing the diseased joint with an artificial one has the potential to eliminate pain over the long term. If your intention is to undergo knee replacement surgery for the purpose of stopping your pain, it is in your best interest to do everything you can to ensure a rapid and complete recovery. In fact, there are some specific things that you can do to help your surgeon heal your pain. So, get ready to team up with your orthopedic surgeon, and the rest of your healthcare team. Use these 7 tips for faster recovery from knee replacement and get ready to live pain-free.
1. Before You Can Rehab, You Need to PreHab
Getting your body and your environment ready for knee replacement surgery will go a long way in helping your recovery along. Eating healthy before and after surgery will give your body the nutrients it needs to heal properly. Small frequent meals of lean protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains is recommended to give your body the nutrition it needs and prevent excess weight that might put added stress on your new joint. If you smoke, now is the time to stop, because smoking interferes with proper healing.
Your surgeon may also give you specific exercises to do before surgery, to strengthen the muscles supporting your knee, improve flexibility and help your healing. These exercises may include thigh squeezes, straight leg raises, side-lying straight leg raises, clamshells, knee bends, sitting kicks, chair pushups, stomach kickbacks, or single leg balancing exercises. Each of these exercises are meant to target specific muscles that support your knee.
In addition to preparing your body, you should also prepare your home so that it is a safe place to recover. Safety bars or a secure handrail in your shower or bath can help prevent falls. You should make sure your stairway has handrails, or better yet, try to create a living space that does not include stairs. A good chair with firm seat cushion and back, and a footstool will help you position comfortably after surgery, while keeping your leg elevated. You may also benefit from a raised toilet seat and a shower chair. Finally, eliminating tripping hazards like loose rugs or cords and animal or children’s toys can prevent falls that will set your recovery back.
2. Position Matters- Don’t Bend, Keep it Straight and other important advice
After your knee replacement surgery, you will be given instructions for activity and exercise. To protect your new knee joint, it’s important to pay attention to detail. For instance, although movement and exercise are part of your recovery routine, keeping your knee straight and properly aligned will help prevent injury. When you are lying down, do not put a pillow under your knee—keep it straight and unbent. While you are sitting, your knees and feet should be pointed straight forward (not turned out). In fact, whether sitting, lying or standing, your knees should be bent or straightened the way your physical therapist or surgeon has instructed. Other important points to remember include don’t put your pants on while standing up, always dress your surgical side first, and undress your surgical side last, and don’t sit in the same position for more than 60 minutes. While taking the stairs, you may need to take it one step at a time initially, always step up with your new knee last and step down with your new knee first, and always hold firmly to the bannister. To make sure you are doing everything to protect your new knee joint, be sure to review all of your post-operative instructions and if you are not sure, ask your orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist.
3. Exercise Right-Follow Your Home Exercise Program
Your surgery will provide you with a new knee joint, free from arthritis, however, how you follow your post-operative plan plays a big role in how quickly and how well you recover from surgery. Regular exercise will be important to strengthen your joint, as well as give it the stability and flexibility needed to provide you with the full benefit of knee replacement. Your orthopedic surgeon may recommend 20-30 minutes of exercises 2 to 3 times per day, in addition to regular daily walks. These exercises, including quadricep tightening, leg raises, ankle pumps, knee bends, and knee straightening exercises are designed to be done on a regular basis for maximum benefit, so it is essential that you follow your plan closely, relying on your physical therapist for instructions and recommendations as you advance toward full recovery.
4. Physical Therapy-Don’t Skip a Session
Speaking of physical therapy, your orthopedic surgeon will communicate with your physical therapist regarding the exercises and activity levels most appropriate for you to promote a quick and full recovery from your knee replacement surgery. Your physical therapist is an expert in rehabilitation after knee replacement surgery, and they are there to evaluate your progress and how well you are performing your exercises. They will guide you through your recovery, communicate any concerns or updates with your surgeon and make recommendations to improve your overall recovery. For this reason, even if you feel as though you are doing your exercises well and progressing wonderfully, it’s important to keep those physical therapy appointments until your surgeon and/or your therapist tells you it is no longer necessary.
5. Take your medications
After surgery, your orthopedic surgeon will have you take some medications to help encourage a safe and speedy recovery. It is important to use these medications exactly as prescribed. You will take a blood thinning medication initially to minimize the risk of a blood clot. Anti-inflammatory medications are generally used to minimize any swelling and discomfort unless you have a medical condition or take another medication that would interfere with this. In addition, traditional pain medications will be used periodically to minimize pain and allow you to work aggressively on your physical therapy exercises. The best advice is to always take your medications as directed by your orthopedic surgeon, until you are told you don’t them anymore.
6. Smoking is a Big No No
By deciding to have knee replacement surgery, you have chosen to give yourself a more active and pain-free life. However, it is important to remember that it is “surgery” and that you should do everything necessary to promote “healing”. This healing requires that the tissue surrounding your new joint gets plenty of oxygen, to regenerate and be healthy. If you smoke, the chemicals and smoke you inhale prevent your lungs from doing the best job they can in providing your body with the oxygen needed for healing. Ultimately this could slow the healing process and open a door for infection to slip in. Additionally, smoking makes your lungs more susceptible to complications associated with surgery. Your best bet to ensure a quick and successful surgery is to quit before surgery, but you should definitely refrain from smoking while you are recovering from knee replacement surgery.
7. You Are What You Eat- Or You Heal as You Eat
In addition to getting plenty of oxygen, good healing is promoted by eating a healthy diet. After surgery, avoid the empty calories that provide no nutritional value and that causes weight gain. Give your body the fuel that it needs to recover quickly and completely. Lean meats, fruits, vegetable, whole greens and 6-8 glasses of water a day will fill that bill. Not only will you be getting the vitamins and minerals needed to support your healing, but you won’t gain any weight that would put added stress on your new joint.
Congratulations on your decision to pursue a pain-free life with knee replacement surgery. Doing all that you can to promote a fast and successful recovery will have you reaping the benefits of this decision in no time. If you have any questions regarding surgery, or are still considering knee replacement surgery, our friendly team is here to help. To seek the expert advice of Dr. Brett Gilbert who will address your unique concerns, contact us today by calling us at (919) 788-8797 or you can request an appointment with Dr. Gilbert using our appointment request form, or you can self-schedule your appointment here.