Signs for Infection - Knee Osteoarthritis

Infections are a concern before and after knee surgery, but don’t worry – with some simple steps, you can minimize the risk and ensure a smoother recovery journey. Let’s explore how you can protect yourself from infections before and after knee surgery, along with some information on why infections occur and what signs to watch for.

Understanding Infections in Knee Surgery

Infections in knee surgery, though uncommon, can happen. About one in four of every 100 patients may develop an infection after artificial knee replacement surgery. These infections can affect the wound, the tissues around the artificial implants, or the implants themselves, and may arise days, weeks, months, or even years after the surgery.

“Fortunately, getting an infection after knee surgery isn’t too common, but we still need to watch out for it and address it right away if it does occur,” says James Cook, DVM, PHD, OTSC, William & Kathryn Allen Distinguished Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Missouri’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. “Understanding the possible causes and spotting any signs or symptoms early is an extremely important part of your job in your recovery. If you notice any signs of infection at all, you should contact your health care team right away.”

Why Infections Occur

Various factors contribute to infections after knee surgery, including:

  • Bacterial entry points: Bacteria can find their way into the body through cuts in the skin, dental procedures, or wounds from other surgeries.
  • Implant materials: Knee implants made of metal and plastic can attract and harbor bacteria, making it challenging for the immune system to fight off infections.
  • Patient factors: Conditions like diabetes, obesity, nicotine use, and immune deficiencies can increase the risk of infections after knee surgery.

Signs of Infection

It’s essential to be mindful of signs of infection after knee surgery and contact your health care provider if you notice:

  • Increased swelling and redness at the incision site
  • Swelling, warmth, or redness around the surgical site
  • Change in color, amount, and/or odor of drainage
  • Increased pain in the hip or knee (not related to increased activity)
  • Fever greater than 101.3°F, chills, fatigue

Preventive Measures Before Knee Surgery

Taking precautions to minimize the risk of infection is also essential before knee surgery. “Simple things, like personal hygiene, maintaining a clean sleeping environment, eating right, and avoiding skin irritants, can make a big difference in avoiding infections, so follow your surgeon’s instructions carefully in preparing and recovering from your surgery,” Dr. Cook says.

Follow pre-surgery instructions.

It’s essential to adhere to your health care team’s guidelines for pre-surgery skin preparation diligently. This typically involves a specific regimen to reduce the risk of infection at the surgical site. For instance, your health care provider may recommend the following steps:

  • Starting three days before your surgery, make it a priority to shower daily.
  • On the night before your surgery, take a thorough shower with soap, ensuring to wash your hair thoroughly. Avoid using leave-in conditioner to prevent any residue that could interfere with the cleansing process.
  • Once you’re dry after your shower, use the cleansing pack provided to you during your preoperative anesthesia visit. Follow the instructions carefully to ensure proper application and effectiveness in reducing bacteria on your skin.

Skip shaving.

Refrain from shaving the area around your knee before surgery. Shaving can create tiny cuts or nicks in the skin, which may increase the risk of introducing bacteria into the surgical site. Hair will be clipped in pre-op holding.

Wash your bedding.

Ensuring a clean sleeping environment at home is crucial before knee surgery to minimize the risk of infection. Make sure your bedding, including sheets and pillowcases, is freshly laundered to remove any dirt, dust, or allergens that could potentially irritate your skin or compromise wound healing. Additionally, consider removing any clutter or objects from your bedroom that could harbor bacteria or contribute to skin irritation.

Refrain from sleeping with pets.

As much as you love cuddling up with your furry friends, it’s best to avoid sharing your bed with pets the night before your knee surgery. Pets bring comfort and joy, but they can also bring dirt, tiny bits of fur, and germs into your bed. This might increase the chance of getting an infection.

Avoid skin irritations.

Stay away from things that can irritate your skin — like places where you can get sunburn, cuts, scratches, poison ivy, or bug bites. If you spot any of these on the leg that will be operated on, promptly contact your surgeon’s office.

Preventative Measures After Knee Surgery

After knee surgery, continue to show yourself love and care by following these steps.

Follow post-surgery instructions.

Read the instructions your doctor gave you after surgery — and follow them.

Monitor the surgical site.

Watch your surgery spot closely for any signs of infection. If something doesn’t seem right, tell your doctor right away.

Practice wound care.

Take good care of your wound by keeping the area clean and dry. Always wash your hands before you change the bandage and after you take the old one off — and avoid scratching it!

Attend follow-up appointments.

Make sure not to miss any follow-up appointments with your surgeon. These visits are really important to help you heal properly.

Communicate with other providers.

Tell your main doctor and your dentist that you’ve had a complete joint replacement. You might need to take special medicine, antibiotics, before you go to the dentist or have certain other procedures, for at least two years after your surgery.

By taking these steps before and after your knee surgery, you can take good care of your health and make your recovery smoother and more comfortable. Remember, your health care team is here to help, guide, and support you.

Be a More Proactive Patient with PatientSpot

PatientSpot (formerly ArthritisPower) is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for people living with chronic conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.

This article was made possible with support from the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute.

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