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Going home after knee replacement surgery


You had knee joint replacement surgery to replace all or part of your knee with an artificial joint. This artificial joint is called a prosthesis.

Activity when you go home

By the time you go home, you should be able to walk with a walker or crutches without needing much help. Use your crutches or walker for as long as you need them. Most people do not need them after 4 to 6 weeks.

You should also be able to dress yourself with only a little help and be able to get into and out of your bed or a chair by yourself. You should be able to use the toilet without much help.

Keep moving and walking once you get home. DO NOT put weight on your side with the new knee until your doctor tells you it is okay. Start out with short periods of activity, and then gradually increase them. Your doctor or physical therapist will give you exercises to do at home.

After a few days you may be able to do simple household chores. DO NOT try to do heavier chores, such as vacuuming or laundry. Remember, you will get tired quickly at first.

It's important to take care with your new knee joint. You need to be careful that you do not dislocate your artificial knee. This is especially true in the first few months after surgery.

You will need to learn exercises that make your new knee stronger.

Getting the home ready and safe

You will need to have someone with you at home 24 hours a day for 7 to 10 days after you leave the hospital or rehab center. You will need help preparing meals, bathing, moving around the house, and doing other daily activities. Before your surgery, make sure you have enough help once you come home. Also take steps to get your home ready after surgery.


Controlling your pain when home:

  • Your doctor will give you a prescription for pain medicines. Get it filled when you go home so you have it when you need it.
  • Take your pain medicine when you start having pain. Waiting too long to take your medicine will allow your pain to get more severe than it should.
  • In the early part of your recovery, taking pain medicine about 30 minutes before you increase your activity or go to physical therapy can help control pain.

As you have an artificial knee joint, you need to carefully protect yourself against infection. You will need to take antibiotics before any invasive medical procedures. Make sure your health care providers know about your prosthesis. In the past providers recommended antibiotics for dental procedures, like teeth cleaning. However, the recommendation has changed, and this is not required.

Most surgeons do not want you to have any surgical procedures done within 3 months of your replacement, unless it is necessary. Always check with your doctor first before you visit your dentist or have another type of procedure.

Your doctor will tell you when it is okay to start sexual activity again. Usually this will be 4 to 6 weeks after surgery. Most positions used before surgery should still be comfortable.

Follow-up tests and visits may be scheduled before you leave the hospital. If not, call and schedule a follow-up with your orthopedic surgeon.

To reduce swelling:

  • Elevate your whole leg, with your knee straight.
  • Place ice bags on your knee 3 to 4 times per day.
  • Wear the support hose you are given on your legs 24 hours a day.

Feeling sad or depressed

You may feel sad or depressed when first coming home from the hospital. Friends or family may notice you are more irritable or you cry more easily.

These feelings and behaviors are normal and not anything to worry about. You should understand you have been through a major operation and are working hard to recover. If feelings of sadness are severe or become worse, contact your doctor or nurse.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • Blood soaking through your dressing and the bleeding does not stop when you put pressure on the area
  • Pain that does not go away after you take your pain medicine
  • Swelling or pain in your calf muscle
  • Yellowish discharge from your incision
  • A temperature higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
  • Swelling around your incision
  • Redness around your incision
  • Chest pain
  • Chest congestion
  • Breathing problems

Call the doctor if your foot or toes look darker than normal or are cool to the touch.

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Review Date: 5/3/2016

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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