What are your options when your knee pain is so intense that even walking short distances is almost unbearable? Chronic knee pain (often resulting from years of arthritis) is often first addressed with conservative approaches such as weight loss, anti-inflammatory medications, or physical therapy. But when these fail to improve knee pain, your doctor may recommend total knee replacement surgery.
What is a Total Knee Replacement?
A total knee replacement (TKR) surgery replaces your knee joint with an artificial metal or plastic replacement, also known as a “prosthesis.” In a typical TKR, the end of the femur (thigh bone) is removed and replaced with a metal shell. The end of the tibia (shin bone) is also removed and replaced with a plastic piece.
A total knee replacement can relieve symptoms of arthritis, including:
- Intense pain that interferes with your daily activities, such as walking, standing up from a chair, shopping, gardening, etc.
- Pain that wakes you up at night
Stiffness or “knock knees” (a condition in which the knees angle in and “knock” against another even when legs are straight)
Most patients who have total knee replacement surgery are between 60 to 80 years old, but patients who are as young as 20 or as old as 90 have also had successful TKR surgeries.
Weight Loss and Heart Health
For many people, the most significant improvement they experience after a total knee replacement is reduced knee pain. Additionally, a TKR can lead to an improvement in overall health.
According to a feature in the New York Times, many TKR patients report notable weight loss after surgery. Moreover, a study of 54,000 TKR patients showed an 11% lower risk of heart failure. Of course, whether you experience better health after surgery depends on you—more specifically, on your level of motivation. Dr. Richard Rothman, who has performed 25,000 joint replacement surgeries in his career, commented that “for the motivated patient, it allows them to walk through that portal and become better conditioned to lose weight. It’s a potential avenue to improve your level of fitness, weight, cardiovascular health, and mental health.”
Life After a Total Knee Replacement
Knowing the benefits may help you make a decision on whether total knee replacement is right for you. But what about after surgery? Knowing what to expect can help you adjust back to your daily life and get the most out of your new knee. These are some of the practical issues and common concerns following total knee replacement surgery:
Avoid putting too much stress on your joint – that means jumping, twisting, or squatting. And avoid lifting heavy objects. After four to six weeks, your knee will be healed enough to do perform all of these activities and more!
Returning to Work
Although you may be eager to get back to work, it’s important to allot enough time for recovery. And that time will vary depending on the nature of your work. If you work from home and sit most of the day, in 10 days, you may be good to go! Otherwise, it could take three to six weeks before you’re well enough to return to work. And if your work requires a lot of physical labor, it could even take a few months. Try to ease back into work, and make sure your employers and colleagues are aware of your situation.
As soon as you feel comfortable standing and can move around, you can resume daily chores like cooking or cleaning. This might take about four to six weeks. If you need to kneel, consider using a pad to cushion your knees.
Walking after total knee replacement surgery is very important! It will help you regain strength in your knee and speed up the recovery process. After about 12 weeks, you can start walking longer distances and engaging in activities like bike riding, dancing, yoga and swimming. Avoid lifting weights for the first few months after surgery.
What does your knee have to do your teeth? Well, for two years after getting a knee replacement, you’re at increased risk of infection. So, before you have any invasive surgical procedure or dental work done, you’ll likely have to take antibiotics beforehand. Consult with your doctor or dentist and share your medical history before undergoing any type of procedure.
One of your biggest questions is probably, “How soon can I get behind the wheel again?” If your left knee was replaced, you can probably start driving after a couple of weeks. But if your right knee was replaced, it will be at least four to six weeks before you can drive again. Make sure you can bend your knee enough to operate the pedals, and if necessary, obtain a disabled placard to avoid walking long distances after parking.
Long flights with little legroom, as you may imagine, are not great for your recovering joint. If you must travel, be sure to get up and stretch every hour or so to avoid developing blood clots. Consult with your doctor before traveling during the first few months after surgery.
Another thing – your metallic knee might also set off the metal detectors at airport security! Be prepared, as you will need a medic alert card and may have to undergo some extra screening.
As always, if you have questions about activities and your body, consult with your doctor, physical therapist or occupational therapist.
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