One of the first questions a patient who is considering a total knee replacement asks is how soon they will be able to walk following surgery.
This is a difficult question to answer since every patient is different, so the outcome will vary as well. For instance, what kind of physical condition were you in prior to the surgery? Your fitness level and general health prior to surgery will play a large role in the time needed to recover, and the degree to which you will recover your ability to walk and run. Your age also plays a role in how your recovery will go.
REALISTIC GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS FOR USING YOUR ARTIFICIAL KNEE
Also, you must have realistic expectations and goals regarding your new knee both prior to and after surgery. As one surgeon put it, bluntly, “I am not the fountain of youth, I am the fountain of middle age”. Remember, the goal of total knee replacement surgery is to relieve pain and restore function, not to enable your knee to perform as if you are in you twenties! Your new knee is not designed to improve your marathon times! In fact, running for exercise is generally not recommended because the bearing in the artificial knee is simply not made for that type of stress. However, you will be able to walk briskly, go cycling, play doubles tennis, enjoy dancing…even snow skiing, though you probably should not engage a black diamond slope. Of course, always check with your doctor to see what activities they recommend just for you. The reason why more strenuous physical activity with your artificial knee is discouraged is that you will wear out the joint faster or loosen the prosthesis, which is a major complication you want to avoid.
GENERAL RECOVERY TIME FOR TOTAL KNEE REPLACEMENT
The staff at the hospital will get you up out of bed and walk as soon after surgery as possible. Understanding that each patient’s recovery is unique, generally you will be standing-with assistance-within 12-24 hours of your operation.
You will experience discomfort, and may feel very tired once you return home. You must remember, you have had a major operation, and the muscles and tissues surrounding your knee will take time to heel. Be sure to follow your physician’s instructions, and contact your doctor should you have any concerns or questions.
You may still experience some mild pain and swelling in your knee area for 3 to 6 months after surgery, while continuing to improve for the next 6-12 months. For some patients, it can take up to 2 years for pain, swelling and stiffness to dissipate.
THE GENERAL TIMELINE FOR WALKING WITH YOUR NEW PROTHETIC KNEE
The first 1-3 weeks, you will probably use a walker, then progress on to crutches. When your stability increases, you can use a cane. Generally speaking, you will probably be able to walk on your own in 4 to 8 weeks.
Now, you need to understand that regaining the ability to walk is based on months of physical rehabilitation after knee replacement. Rehab is essential for strengthening the muscles of the knee, and help you regain movement. These are the support mechanisms that allow you to walk, and perform normal daily activities with less pain or no pain at all. The better you do with your rehab exercises, the quicker you will regain your strength and movement back in your knee. You may even be able to resume playing golf!
Always discuss your approved personal activity levels with your physician after surgery, and during recovery, to obtain the best results. And remember, always tell your caregivers that you have an artificial knee.
For more information about what to expect after total knee replacement, please contact William F Hefley Jr., MD and his team of medical professionals at (501) 663 – 6455.