Joint Replacement Surgery Recovery

If you and your doctor agree that surgery is the right choice for your knee osteoarthritis (OA), it’s important to know what comes next. The good news: You can manage it by following a few simple steps.

“While knee replacement surgery is painful, if you prepare well, educate yourself and the friends and family that will help you recover, and partner with your health care team to know what you should expect and what tools and resources are available to you, you can manage your recovery and healing really well,” says James Cook, DVM, PHD, OTSC, William & Kathryn Allen Distinguished Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Missouri’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Having realistic expectations about the pain, understanding your personal pain response, and knowing what strategies work best for you are crucial. “Effective pain management after surgery involves so much more than medications, so we want to provide you with all the tools, tips, and tricks you can use to recover as easily as possible,” adds Dr. Cook.

Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may work for you, but your doctor may also prescribe medications for more severe pain. Always check with your health care team before starting any new medication. Your prescribed pain management plan might also include icing, compression sleeves, and elevating your leg to reduce swelling.

Stay Ahead of the Pain

Pain medication isn’t always scheduled around the clock for knee OA; it’s often provided to take “as needed” in conjunction with other pain management tools. This means you want to manage your pain before it feels like too much. It’s much easier to effectively manage pain if you treat it early, so try to stay one step ahead by using a pain diary to determine when and how to best manage your knee pain.

Do Your Physical Therapy and At-Home Exercises

Maintaining your strength, balance, motion, and mobility are critical to your joint health, physical health, mental health, and quality of life. A physical therapist can help you with exercises that match your specific needs, symptoms, capabilities, and resources. It might be surprising, but regular physical activity can help reduce pain and stiffness while strengthening your muscles and enhancing your mental health. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and tai chi are excellent options for patients with knee OA.

Allow Time for Rest and Recovery

Practice good sleeping habits and listen to your body when it feels like you need rest and time to recover — plan your activities accordingly.

Monitor and Manage Swelling

Swelling can increase pain and cause stiffness. Using compression sleeves or hose and icing and elevating your knee can help keep swelling down.

Eat An “Anti-inflammatory” Diet

Consulting a dietitian to help you create a diet that reduces inflammation in your body and helps you get to an ideal weight can be one of the most effective ways to manage your knee OA. Inflammation is one of the primary drivers of knee pain and carrying extra weight can put more stress on your joints, which might also make your pain worse. But remember, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the best way to determine a healthy diet and weight for you.

Stay Positive and Be Patient

Try to stay positive and be patient with your body as well as your emotional pain and mental health. Managing knee OA is a lifelong job, but you can do it effectively with help from your family, friends, and health care team.

Know Your Options

There are many strategies, tools, and resources for safely and effectively managing your knee OA, and not everyone needs surgery to treat this condition. Working with an integrated multidisciplinary team that includes your primary care physician, physical therapist, and dietitian, as well as physical medicine and rehabilitation, behavioral health, and orthoapedic specialists, will help you determine a knee OA treatment plan that is right for 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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