Not to scare you but this is NOT a comfortable surgery to recover from. I frequently tell my patients who are planning this surgery to expect to be miserable for 1-3 weeks. Miserable is a very strong word yet very few of my patients say it wasn't as bad as they thought it was going to be. What surprises many of my patients is how long the knee remains uncomfortable after surgery, many of them think "I am tough" or "I am in good shape going into surgery" so it shouldn't be that bad. Unfortunately this is basically carpentry of the body and it hurts. Toughing it out for a few days isn't enough because it still hurts after week one and two. With that said, the outcomes are EXCELLENT and almost everyone is glad they had their surgery and often wish they had it sooner.
Fortunately the pain gradually subsides and the new complaint is STIFFNESS. If you leave your knee straight too long it hurts and if you leave it bent too long it hurts. Stationary bikes are really helpful at keeping the knee from getting too stiff and it is quite rewarding the first time you make a full revolution on the bike. Most of my patients will struggle to get knee extension (straightening) OR knee flexion (bending), rarely do patients have trouble getting both directions. Knee extension is the priority as it allows you to stand and walk properly. If you are fortunate enough to have your range of motion come back easily, your rehab is much more comfortable. The stiffer you are, the harder/longer it needs to be pushed on by the patient or therapist.
A total knee replacement or total knee arthroplasty is exactly what it sounds like. You are getting a "new" joint. Many patients have two "bad" knees by the time they are thinking about joint replacements. It isn't uncommon that the knee that looks worse on x-ray isn't the more painful knee. Most patients choose to have the more painful knee done first and it isn't long after surgery before your "bad" knee becomes your "good" knee. Your new knee will NOT look like your old knee, not only will you have a nice scar down the front of your knee, the knee itself will appear wider than your non-surgical knee, many of my patients think this is swelling that will subside and are disappointed when I tell them it is actually just the shape of their new knee. If you have both your knees replaced, you will then have a matching set! Swelling and bruising are common and frequently not a concern, if you have concerns about how your incision looks please contact your surgeon or PT. Your knee/leg often aren't too pretty in that first week but will improve quickly.
A Good Outcome
Orthopedic surgeons that specialize in joint replacements do a lot of them, some average 8 or more a day. That high volume allows the surgeon and their entire surgical team to be very good at them. The outcomes are generally EXCELLENT.
Total knee replacements are the most common surgery I see here at Altitude Physical Therapy and myself and our other therapists are very confident in treating patients afterwards. Some of those treated before surgery are able to delay surgery or eliminate the need entirely. Please don't hesitate to reach out to any of the Altitude clinics if you have further questions or concerns of what to expect.
Drew Sowyrda, PT, DPT
Bob Cranny, PT