what happens before, during and after surgery?

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The path your choose to treat your knee condition is sometimes referred to as the “patient journey.” If you choose to have partial knee replacement surgery, this journey can be broken up into four distinct periods of time:

  • Pre-Surgery
  • Hospital Stay
  • Recovery
  • Long-term Care

Learn what to expect during each of these stages of your journey.


long-term preparation: 4 weeks before surgery or longer

In order to achieve the best results from surgery and ensure everything goes smoothly, the longer you have to prepare, the better. Your surgeon may ask you to have a comprehensive medical evaluation to clear yourself for the operation and to take some diagnostic tests. These will help your orthopedist decide what type of knee replacement is best for you. You should also ask for a referral to a physical therapist and begin a pre-surgical exercise routine to help prepare your body for the procedure. After all, a stronger leg going into surgery is also a stronger leg out of surgery and can make your recovery faster and easier.

short-term preparation: 2–4 weeks before surgery

This is the perfect time to make sure your body is in the best shape for surgery. Talk with your doctor about eliminating dietary and behavioral risk factors from your daily routine (such as smoking and drinking alcohol) and follow a pre-surgical exercise program designed by a physical therapist. It’s also a great opportunity to start making arrangements for your return from the hospital.

one week prior to surgery

In the days just before your surgery, your doctor will most likely restrict and supplement your diet, prescribe medications such as antibiotics to help ward against infection during the operation and ask you to stop taking certain medications. This is an excellent time for you and your caregiver to familiarize yourselves with the surgery and what to expect during your hospital stay. It’s also important to know what to bring to the hospital to make your time there more comfortable—ask your doctor’s office or a member of the hospital staff for guidance.

your hospital stay

Imagine: within 24 hours of surgery, the nurses and physical therapist in the hospital will help you get out of bed on your own, take a few steps and sit on the side of your bed. At first you will experience intense pain, but it will be managed with IV pain medication and subside after a few days. Even though you may feel pain, moving your new knee joint is critical for development of a healthy joint. Infections after knee replacement surgery can be serious. Your doctors will take steps to minimize the risk of infection, but you should also ask them to teach you the warning signs. Before you’re discharged, you’ll be instructed on how to go up and down steps, bathe and dress on your own—although your doctor will tell you when it’s advisable to start doing these things at home without assistance. Remember: this is the time you’ve been planning for. Stay positive and rely on others for support.


short-term recovery: first week after surgery

This is a week when your primary focus will be on recovery. While there will be some pain, you’ll be prescribed pain medication to manage it. Every day should show noticeable improvement. It’s normal to feel some discomfort after surgery—especially when performing exercises prescribed by your physical therapist. By sticking to your rehabilitation program, though, you can improve the long-term results of your knee replacement.

short-term recovery: 2–4 weeks after surgery

Now that you’re two to four weeks into your journey to recovery, you’ve made quite a bit of progress—but there’s a lot left to look forward to. In a few weeks, you’ll be allowed to go up and down stairs again. You’ll have to wait until at least four weeks after surgery to get back behind the wheel. And, depending on what you do for a living and the pace of your recovery, you’ll most likely return to work four to 10 weeks post surgery. Everyone is different—be sure to listen to your body and ask your doctor whenever you’re in doubt.

long-term care

After six weeks of rehabilitation, you will continue to recover from knee replacement surgery. Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you return to doing the things you love:

Avoid routine dental work for three months

Follow your doctor’s or dentist’s instructions for taking a prescribed antibiotic before you have dental work

Follow up with your surgeon as directed for routine evaluation and x-rays

Steer clear of high-impact activities as they can cause early loosening of your knee joint

Metal detectors might be activated by your new implant; alert appropriate security staff of your knee implant

You can have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) on other parts of your body, but you won’t be able to have a clear MRI on your new knee

view real patient stories and a surgical animation:

See Laura win the race over her knee pain.


See an animation of the knee replacement procedure.

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Oct 16 2014 - 12:30:12