elderly man on crutches

Everything You Need to Know Before Knee Surgery

Knee surgery is serious, and it impacts millions of people every year. Your knee is a key joint that is responsible for mobility. Knee pain and damage to your ligaments or cartilage can make it impossible to walk.

When undergoing knee surgery, your experience will depend on the type of surgery you have.

Understanding the Types of Knee Surgery

Knee surgery is always complex, but there’s a major difference between a total knee replacement and ligament repair. The following types of knee surgery are performed annually:

  • Complete replacement. Knee replacement is a last resort, and this is only performed when there are no other treatment options to alleviate pain. Perhaps the cartilage has deteriorated to the point where the knee bones are rubbing together. Arthritis may also be so bad that a replacement is necessary. The joint is removed and replaced with a synthetic joint.
  • Arthroscopy. A minimally invasive surgery, this surgery includes a small incision and can be used to remove loose bodies, pieces of cartilage or ligaments or bone floating within the knee.
  • Osteotomy. A more intense surgery that requires the repositioning, cutting or reshaping of the knee bone. The goal is to relieve some of the weight from the damaged part of the knee.

It’s easy to guess which procedures will require the most time to recover. Complete knee replacement is the most extensive form of surgery, and osteotomy is the second most intense. Both of these procedures will take longer to recover from than an arthroscopy which is minimally invasive.

What Recovery Will Look Like for Knee Surgery

Procedures are truly a success when the person can start returning to their normal, active lifestyle. The recovery process is one of the most important, and it’s during this time that you need to follow doctor’s orders.

What to Expect: Knee Replacement

Total knee replacement is very serious, and you’ll need to be in the hospital for several days after surgery. You’ll spend the first few days trying to relieve the pain and prevent blood clots from forming.

Pain medication will be prescribed.

The doctor will often recommend what’s called a continuous passive motion machine. What this machine does is support the knee, moving it while you’re laying in bed. The machine is designed to improve circulation to the knee.

Circulation is very important because it will help with the healing process.

Swelling will also be decreased thanks to the elevation that the machine offers. You will only be allowed to return home when you can confidently bend your knee enough to sit in the car. Muscle control will also need to improve before you’re able to resume driving if the foot you drive with is attached to the leg in which the knee was replaced.

Under the right circumstances, a person will be able to resume most of their normal activities 3-6 weeks after the procedure is performed.

What to Expect: Arthroscopy

Since arthroscopy offers a minimally invasive approach to knee surgery, it’s a quick surgery to recover from. You can expect to be released from the hospital within hours of the procedure’s completion.

You may be in pain, and pain medication may be offered for a few days after surgery.

You can expect to drive in as little as one week and as long as three weeks after surgery. While recovering, you’ll want to keep your leg elevated to keep swelling to a minimum. You will also need to use a mobility aid while the knee heals.

Total recovery time depends on the extent of the surgery, but you can expect recovery to be 6 to 8 weeks. Sometimes, recovery time is much faster.

What to Expect: Osteotomy

Osteotomy will require some form of pain relief, and since the bone is involved, the surgery’s recovery can be intensive. You’ll need to wait 3 to 6 months to return to normal activities. You’ll also spend one to two days in the hospital.

You may or may not have a knee brace or cast.

The bone needs to heal, which will make this the longest form of surgery in terms of recovery. Knee replacement, on the other hand, is the form of surgery that will take the most time to get accustomed to walking again.

It’s up to you to encourage healing after surgery, and it’s recommended that exercise during the first few weeks after surgery be followed. This exercise, which will be recommended by the doctor or a physical therapist, is going to strengthen the knee and keep blood flowing to the affected area.

Your goal from exercise is to restore movement and help rebuild strength that may have been lost.

Exercises are often recommended:

  • 2-3 times daily
  • 20-30 minutes per session

You should also discuss a plan with your doctor or physical therapist on when activities can be performed again. For example, you may not be able to ascend or descend stairs for weeks. You should have a timetable in place for when you can perform such activities again.

There should be a follow-up appointment that takes place a few weeks after the surgery is performed.

Stitches or staples will be removed weeks after the surgery, and if you have an arthroscopy, you can expect to have a follow-up appointment just a few days after the procedure. During the follow-up, your doctor will ask questions, may perform X-rays and will discuss the remainder of your recovery plan.

Knee Surgery Mobility Options

The knee will need time to heal, and there are a few mobility options that your doctor will recommend:

  • Crutches are the most common because they allow you to maintain mobility with no pressure put on the knee
  • Wheelchair when using crutches is unsafe and may result in a person falling or further injury

Knee scooters are not recommended, as the knee that has undergone surgery would need to have all of the weight placed upon it.

If you’re having trouble with your mobility after surgery, you’ll want to consult with your doctor to discuss your options. It may just be a matter of time and healing before you’re able to use crutches or a wheelchair.

About the author

Tim Brewer

Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.

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