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Having a Knee Replacement

After your surgery

Your healthcare team will send a report to your family doctor about your surgery and recovery.

The information here tells you what to expect to feel and do as you recover from surgery.

If you have questions or concerns related to your knee surgery, call your case manager.

Managing pain after surgery

You can expect to have pain after surgery, even if you're taking medicine for pain. It's important that your pain is well managed so that you can stand, walk, and start your physical therapy.

Let your healthcare team know when you feel pain.

There are many ways to manage your pain and swelling, including:

  • using ice
  • keeping your leg raised
  • taking pain medicine

Tell your healthcare team if you need ice to put on your knee or pillows to keep your leg raised.

To help with your pain during physical therapy, take your pain medicine 30 to 45 minutes before your session, so it has time to work.

Talk to your healthcare team about what works best to manage your pain. And let them know if your pain medicine doesn't manage your pain or causes side effects.

Don't wait until the pain is bad before you talk to your healthcare team.

Other medicines

Ask your healthcare team when you can start taking any of the medicines you took before surgery (including herbal medicines and supplements).

Deep breathing and preventing blood clots

You'll have to breathe deeply and cough at least once an hour after surgery to clear your lungs.

You'll need to take a blood thinner after surgery to lower the chance of getting a blood clot. You'll be given a prescription for a blood thinner to take for a few weeks after you go home.

Your healthcare team will show you foot and ankle exercises to do 1 time every hour to help prevent blood clots.

Rest and activity

You need rest and activity to recover. You'll tire easily the first few weeks after surgery. You may find that your normal sleep patterns also change. Let the way you feel be your guide to what you can and can't do.

Stop what you're doing and rest when you begin to feel tired. It's better for you to do shorter activities (like walking) more often, rather than doing one long activity.

Remember to do your foot and ankle exercises every hour.

Leg swelling

Your leg will swell as you become more active after surgery. It's normal for your knee to be warm and swollen for many weeks after surgery.

If you have pain in your calf or chest, tell you healthcare team right away.

Rehabilitation

You'll be able to do a little more activity every day. You'll also begin a program to help improve the flexibility or range of movement in your new knee and make your knee stronger.

  • You'll likely be allowed to put as much weight on the leg that had surgery as you can handle. Your healthcare team will tell you if you need to limit the amount of weight you can put on that leg.
  • Your physical therapist will teach you to use a walker. Use your walker until your physical therapist says you can stop. They'll also show you exercises you need to do.
  • You must keep walking and exercising when you go home. Whether or not you need physical therapy will depend on how well you recover on your own. Your healthcare team will tell you if you need physical therapy after you leave the hospital.
  • Your healthcare team will check how well you can do the exercises on your own and move around. They will also see if you have what you need to manage at home. The team will recommend when you can leave the hospital and what community services you may need at home.

Movements not to do after surgery

It's important to ease back into activities after surgery. But there are some movements you should not do for the first 3 months after surgery.

  • Don't jar or twist your new knee suddenly. Make sure you don't bend it in an uncontrolled way.
  • Don't cross your legs.
  • Don't sleep with a pillow under your knee. It can cause a permanent bend in your knee or put pressure on blood vessels in your leg.

Credit: All images on this page belong to the Bone and Joint Health ​Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services.​​​​

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