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According to doctors, your knee will always feel better after surgery. This may be true eventually, however, the immediate recovery can be painful as total knee replacement surgery is a major procedure. Once you get past this initial recovery phase you will be able to return to your activities pain free for likely the first time in years. Your knee WILL be better than it was prior to surgery, but it just needs time.
Initial Post Op Days — What to Focus On:
- Pain Management:
It is better in the early stages to take pain medication on a regular schedule so that you can participate fully in the rehabilitation process. Trying to tough it out and remain stoic will not help you regain your range of motion. In fact, it may hinder your recovery process altogether. The earlier you regain range of motion, the easier your recovery will be, and the faster you will get back to all the activities you love. In addition to your pain medication, remember to use ice.
- Edema Management:
Post-operation swelling is completely normal and can be treated with cold temperature to numb the pain and reducing inflammation. The faster the swelling decreases, the faster your range of motion will increase. Ice, elevation, and ankle pumps will be your friends in the early days. Make sure to request a cold therapy machine upon discharge which will make the icing much easier because you can leave it on your knee continuously. If you do not have a cold therapy machine, keep several gel packs in the freezer and rotate through them, just make sure to place a barrier between your skin and the cold pack. The rule of thumb is that your skin must come back to normal temperature inbetween icing sessions so make sure to use ice or gel packs for about 20 minutes every hour.
- Range of Motion (ROM):
After surgery, hospital staff will assign exercises to aid in both knee bending (flexion) and knee straightening (extension). Short frequent bouts of ROM activities are preferable to longer less frequent sessions. A CPM (Constant Passive Motion) machine will help with flexion by moving the leg through a range of motion without muscle input. Even without a CPM, just keep moving the knee. You will need to keep working on your ROM intensively for several weeks.
After surgery your leg may feel extremely heavy and hard to lift, but this sensation is completely normal. It may feel like you have lost all your pre-surgery strength, however, it is largely a neurological response that that gives the impression of lost strength. Your brain will inhibit your quadriceps muscles post operation due to pain, swelling, and the surgery itself. Eventually the muscles will begin working again if you do your range of motion exercises and keep trying to lift it.
Once you are discharged from the hospital your focus should remain on pain management, edema management, and improved range of motion in addition to muscle strengthening. During the day do not sit for more than 2 hours without standing up and walking a short distance. This will not only help with your recovery, but also prevent blood clots. Make sure to do ROM exercises when your pain medication is at its full effect and include cycles of ice/elevation and walking. Stay focused on your goals and before long you and your new knee will have a long and happy pain free future together.
Overall, the key to success is to be mindful and in the moment. Be Active Be Well
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.