physical therapist treating senior woman's kneeAfter total knee replacement surgery, recovery starts immediately and typically lasts 12 weeks. During this time, physical therapy and rehabilitation begin in the hospital before the patient transitions to a short-term care facility to continue healing and making progress. If you or a loved one is scheduled to undergo this procedure, here’s what you should expect.

After Knee Surgery

Ideally, patients are able to perform some low-impact activities within a month after surgery, such as driving and cleaning the house. To reach this goal, rehabilitation starts the same day as your surgery:

  • You’ll begin by learning to stand and walk short distances using the new joint, with the goal of moving around your space and reaching the bathroom.
  • Along with walking, you’ll practice bending and straightening your knee.
  • Within days, you’ll practice climbing stairs and aim to fully extend the knee. You’ll also keep working to bend the knee, ideally about 10 degrees after the procedure.
  • Physical therapy introduces exercises to help improve mobility and move with an assistive device. You may use a crutch or walker for a few weeks to reduce fall risks.
  • A continuous passive motion machine also helps the joint move and reduces risks for stiffness and scar tissue.
  • You’ll want to make sure your home is equipped with other assistive devices for continued recovery, including a tub chair, tongs for reaching and a raised toilet seat.
  • Finally, you’ll be given directions on how much weight your new knee can support at this point in your recovery and gradually increase this amount in short-term rehab and at home.

Patients are typically discharged within three days of knee replacement surgery. However, this may be longer for older patients who need more time to heal. Discharge is based on how much physical therapy you’ll require, progress thus far and any complications from pre-existing conditions or following surgery.

Generally, the hospital discharges a patient when he or she can stand with minimal assistance, walk further without an assistive device, get up and down a set of stairs and bathe and use the toilet alone. From here, patients may be discharged to their home or a short-term rehabilitation facility.

Recovery At a Short-Term Rehabilitation Facility

Patients who don’t have help at home or whose property is not conducive to recovery are recommended to continue physical and occupational therapy at a short-term rehab facility.

Your stay serves as an extension of what you started in the hospital. Prepare to continue exercises that focus on strengthening your body, improving mobility of your knee and avoiding injury. At the same time, you’ll continue learning how to fully use your new knee and reducing pain during recovery. Each patient receives an individualized therapy plan covering roughly the next three months.

At this stage, goals may include:

  • Continuing to work on bending your knee, ideally to a 90-degree angle.
  • Continuing to practice fully straightening your knee.
  • Learning how to stand up from a sitting position without help.
  • Being able to walk for at least 10 minutes without assistance.
  • Progressing past the need for physical devices or limiting their use, ideally four weeks into recovery.
  • Helping you return to work part-time if you perform a sedentary job. Ask your doctor when you should return to full-time work.

During your stay in short-term rehabilitation:

  • The swelling around your knee will start to go down.
  • Movement will become easier and more comfortable as you gain more strength.
  • You’ll develop more independence, based on what you can do with and without an assistive device. You’ll also find you can get up and down stairs with relative ease.
  • Your physical therapist may recommend low-impact aerobic activities and strength exercises, including walks or cycling, to ease back into everyday activities.
  • You’ll be able to bend your knee past 90 degrees.

Beyond 12 weeks, you should start attending fewer physical therapy sessions as your strength and mobility improve.
Are you planning recovery for an upcoming knee replacement procedure? Consider short-term rehabilitation at Avon Health Center! We can assist your progress following surgery and offer post-recovery care. To learn more about our approach, contact us today.