Are you undergoing a life-changing knee surgery? Want to learn the tips to recover fast and efficiently?
After my surgeries which included two ACL reconstructions (one each leg, because balance duh?), and two scopes (again . . . balance) I certainly know that it’s a journey that requires patience, care, and the right approach to ensure a successful recovery. But let’s face it, the recovery process can often be daunting.
You may wonder, “How can I heal faster? What are the best practices for a smooth rehabilitation?”
If these questions resonate with you, you’re in the right place. If you feel the same way I did, you may be overwhelmed by what you are going through both physically and emotionally, but you aren’t alone.
In this article, we’ll unveil 29 expert tips from someone who has been where you are, to accelerate your recovery. These insights are designed to guide you through the healing phase, ensuring you bounce back stronger and faster.
Now, let’s break down each of these tips to provide you with a detailed roadmap for a speedy and effective recovery.
Table of Contents
What are the top knee surgery recovery tips?
After undergoing surgery on your knee joint, stepping into the recovery phase is crucial. This period is not just about waiting for the wound to heal; it’s an active phase where you play a significant role in facilitating a swift and effective healing process. As a clinician and previous patient, I believe it is even more important than the surgery.
Whether you’re dealing with post-operative discomfort or severe pain, the way you manage your recovery can greatly impact your long-term knee health. It’s essential to be equipped with practical and effective strategies that aid in your rehabilitation and contribute to a smoother healing journey.
In the following section, we’ll go into tried-and-true tips that focus on minimizing discomfort, enhancing mobility, and speeding up the healing process of your knee joint post-surgery. Let’s uncover these vital tips to help you navigate the recovery phase with confidence and ease.
1. Comprehension and Understanding
Before you do anything major in life you should fully understand what it entails, especially medically. When it comes to undergoing a procedure like a knee replacement or partial knee replacement, having a clear comprehension and understanding of the procedure is vital.
It’s not just about knowing that you’re having surgery; it’s about grasping the specifics, nuances, and expectations of the process. Engaging in an informed discussion with your orthopedic surgeon and care team allows you to gain insights into what your particular procedure entails.
Whether it’s a partial knee replacement or a full one, an ACL reconstruction, or a meniscus scope, each has unique aspects that can impact your recovery and overall outcome. By going into the specifics with your orthopedic surgeon, you empower yourself with knowledge, helping to alleviate anxieties and setting a clear path for your post-surgery journey.
This knowledge will also keep you safe because if you notice other unexpected symptoms, you can quickly let your care team or medical team know. Even if you sometimes struggle with medical jargon you must do your best to understand this information, it is your body and it is important knowledge to help you have a safe and smooth recovery.
2. House Preparation
A common mistake I and many patients make is a lack of preparation. Whether you are having a total knee replacement surgery or a simple scope, it is crucial to prepare your home ahead of time to make sure you can perform your usual activities after leaving the recovery room.
This means making sure that everything you need for the first few weeks is either in a centralized location or easily brought to you by a family member, to account for your limited mobility and inability to climb stairs.
This also can include ensuring tripping hazards are removed from the part of your house where you’ll be a hermit for the days or weeks where you are held in captivity by your knee.
3. Meal Preparation
Navigating your kitchen and preparing meals can be a challenging task in the initial several weeks after knee surgery. During this critical recovery period, it’s important to plan ahead to ensure you have easy access to nutritious meals without putting unnecessary strain on your healing knee.
Simple strategies and a bit of pre-planning can make meal preparation a much smoother experience, especially in the first few weeks after surgery when mobility is typically most limited.
4. Grooming and Self-Care
There are few things more personal than your routine grooming or self-care. Unfortunately, having a procedure like a knee replacement throws a grenade into parts of your daily life, this being one many don’t consider. To continue to do these things independently after surgery (the preferred and less embarrassing way), the appropriate steps need to be taken.
It’s not just about maintaining hygiene and keeping your incision clean; it’s about doing so safely and comfortably. Ensuring your shower is equipped with essential aids such as grab bars and a shower chair can make a significant difference and allow you to adequately clean your incision site.
These tools not only provide the support your body needs as it heals but also empower you to maintain independence in self-care. They minimize the risk of falls and strain on your knee joint, allowing you to focus on healing and long-term recovery.
5. Restroom Considerations
Well, there is no way around it. Time to have a crappy conversation.
After you have surgery on your leg, you will, in fact, still need to use the restroom. I know this is mind-blowing stuff, but I assure you many people neglect to have this discussion with their healthcare team.
Adapting your bathroom for post-surgery use is a key step in ensuring a safe and comfortable recovery for your knee. The focus is on creating an environment that minimizes strain on your leg while maintaining personal hygiene. Introducing aids like a commode chair or grab bars can make a significant difference in your daily routine, offering support and stability during a period when your knee is most vulnerable.
These adaptations go beyond mere convenience; they are vital for safeguarding your knee against further stress and facilitating a smoother healing process.
6. Surgeon’s Instructions
There are very few things in life almost as certain as our last subject, but this is one of them.
The guidance you receive from your surgeon after surgery is tailored specifically to your situation and can vary depending on several factors, such as the type of surgery you had and your overall health.
It’s crucial to understand that these instructions are not one-size-fits-all; they are carefully crafted to optimize your individual recovery. Adhering closely to your surgeon’s recommendations post-surgery is key to a successful outcome.
7. Communication and Doctor’s Appointments
Effective communication with your healthcare provider is a crucial aspect of your recovery, especially after joint replacement surgery. Regular doctor’s appointments are not just routine check-ins; they are key opportunities to track your progress, address any concerns, and adjust your recovery plan as needed even if it is as simple as noting increased redness in your knee.
It’s important to be proactive in communicating your experiences, symptoms, and any challenges you’re facing. These discussions can provide valuable insights into your healing and help your medical team offer the best possible guidance.
8. Pain Medication
Effective pain management is a critical component of the recovery process, especially after a knee replacement surgery. It’s common to experience pain and discomfort during the initial phase of healing, but with the right approach to pain medication, this can be significantly alleviated.
Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe medications specifically tailored to manage the pain associated with knee replacement. Understanding how to use these prescribed medications correctly is vital not only for pain relief but also for preventing potential complications.
Most patients, like myself, have made errors in managing their pain after surgery. You must stay ahead of the pain you are experiencing in your knee.
The best way I have found to relieve pain (as much as possible anyway) is to set alarms on my phone to remind myself to take medication. I’d highly recommend you do the same even if you are sleeping, to make sure that you don’t experience long periods of severe pain at the surgery site.
9. Mobility Aids
After joint replacement surgery or a knee procedure in general, mobility aids such as walkers or wheelchairs can be indispensable tools in your recovery journey. These aids are designed to provide support and stability as you regain strength and mobility in your joints.
Choosing the right mobility aid is, just like everything else on this list, important; it can make a significant difference in how comfortably and safely you navigate your daily activities during recovery.
Whether it’s a walker that offers balance while you take those first few steps, or a wheelchair for longer distances, these aids can help minimize strain on your artificial joint.
10. Sleep and Rest
Getting enough sleep and rest is very important for you to make a full recovery, especially after a knee replacement or surgery. When you’re recovering after surgery, your body needs more rest than usual to repair and strengthen itself. Quality sleep and adequate rest are not just about feeling less tired; they’re essential for helping your knee heal properly during the initial days and weeks after your procedure.
After 4 knee procedures, I know one thing for sure. It is NOT easy to get comfortable during the initial phase of healing. To make sure that you are as comfortable as you can, I’d highly recommend propping your leg up and utilizing pillows as much as possible to protect your knee.
During my second round of surgeries I was also able to get a different mattress (I treated myself) that could adjust as needed for my comfort.
One often overlooked aspect of recovery is the positive impact of community and shared experiences. Connecting with others who have undergone similar journeys can provide invaluable support and insight.
In these communities, whether they are online forums, support groups, or local meet-ups, you’ll find a wealth of shared experience and wisdom. Engaging with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly uplifting and encouraging. It’s a space where you can share tips, celebrate progress, and offer mutual support.
This aspect is something that I personally neglected, and it made it much more challenging to get to a place where I truly felt healed and more so, understood.
12. Stay Active
As a healthcare provider, I knew that it was imperative to move after surgery, but due to the pain and my deep desire to be a couch potato, I struggled. This is also one of the most common mistakes I have seen patients make post-surgery.
After a knee procedure, it’s important to stay active in a safe and measured way. Simple exercises like ankle pumps, range of motion exercises, and short walks are essential in your recovery. They not only improve blood flow but also help keep your muscles strong and your joints flexible. As you start walking again, remember to balance these exercises with rest.
13. Elevation and Compression
During your recovery, dealing with swelling is a common issue, and effectively managing it is crucial not only for comfort but also for preventing complications like blood clots.
Elevation and compression are two essential techniques in this effort. By elevating your leg, you help reduce swelling by encouraging fluid to move away from your knee, while compression, often using bandages or special garments, provides snug support and further helps in reducing swelling.
These methods are straightforward but play a significant role in your overall recovery and in minimizing the risk of blood clots and can help you after a total knee replacement, or any other surgery you are going through.
14. Ice, Ice, Baby
I did not include this just for Vanilla Ice.
Using ice therapy like ice packs, knee ice machines, or other technology, is a classic and effective method in your recovery after a knee procedure. Not only do they help in reducing swelling, but ice can also play a crucial role in numbing the area to alleviate pain.
This simple, yet powerful tool can be a game-changer in the early stages of recovery, providing relief, and allowing you to dance to any one-hit wonder you want.
Early in the process of your recovery, it will also be important to wear clothing that allows you to still function independently. This may include loose or adaptive clothing to help you continue toward your goal of making a full recovery.
16. Mindful Movement
In the twenty-first century, everything is busy. We are all trying to do 4,589 things all at once, which is a true testament to how amazing we are as a species. That being said, we tend to do things without thinking, with movement being second to things like breathing.
After procedures like a knee replacement, it is important that you think and be mindful of your movements. Things to consider are:
- Avoiding twisting motions
- Being careful on stairs
- Monitoring form on lifting or bending
Simply being aware of how you are moving, so that you do not disrupt your may seem like a no-brainer, but it is difficult to master. Slowing things down with mindful movement is an important part of the early recovery process.
Keeping well-hydrated is a simple yet crucial part of recovery after a knee procedure like a knee replacement surgery.
Water plays an essential role in every aspect of our health, including aiding in the healing process, maintaining joint lubrication, and helping to flush out toxins from the body. Proper hydration can also contribute to better overall physical performance and comfort during your recovery period.
Proper nutrition is important for everyone, especially those who have endured the physical trauma of surgery. The right diet can significantly aid in healing, reducing inflammation, and rebuilding muscle and tissue.
It’s not just about eating; it’s about fueling your body with the nutrients it needs to recover effectively. A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other essential nutrients can make a substantial difference in how quickly and efficiently your body heals.
The best advice I have ever had on the subject of nutrition is to prioritize whole foods, and protein as much as possible for muscular development and recovery.
Processed foods and high levels of sugar make it very difficult to live a healthy life, in addition to making a recovery after a knee replacement (or other surgery) difficult.
In addition to a balanced diet, supplements can play a supportive role in your recovery process. While they don’t replace whole foods, supplements can help fill nutritional gaps and provide extra support where your body needs it most during healing.
Whether it’s vitamins to aid tissue repair, minerals to strengthen bones or other specific supplements recommended by your healthcare provider, they can contribute positively to your recovery. It’s important to choose the right supplements and take them correctly to get the most benefit.
20. Physical Therapy
Engaging with a physical therapist is a pivotal part of your recovery after a knee procedure. Physical therapy plays a critical role not just in helping you regain strength, but also in ensuring that your knee returns to its normal function.
A professional physical therapist will guide you through specific exercises and routines tailored to your unique recovery needs. This personalized approach helps effectively restore mobility and reduce pain, which accelerates your journey back to normalcy.
21. Knee Brace
Selecting the best knee brace after your surgery is an important decision. The ideal brace for your recovery depends on various factors, including the type of surgery you’ve had and your specific healing needs.
A well-chosen knee brace can provide support, stability, and comfort, aiding significantly in your rehabilitation process. It’s essential to understand which type of brace is best for your situation, as the right choice can help protect your new joint, reduce pain, and facilitate a smoother recovery.
While Physical Therapy and their rehabilitation plan are very important to follow initially for your knee, you cannot be in their care forever. Most patients, even after they graduate from therapy, still have residual symptoms in their knee that prevent them from trusting their knee the way they did before surgery.
To prevent stiffness after all surgeries (especially a total knee replacement) it is very important that you gradually increase your exercise in targeted ways that will strengthen not only your muscles but your joints. This gradual increase is called progressive overload when weight training, but the same principles can also be used for cardiovascular exercises as well.
After surgery, you will also need to start focusing more strategically on stretching. Stretching after knee surgery is important to improve function and return to your prior level of functioning.
23. Alcohol and Smoking
While this section seems a bit nitpicky, it really is important. One thing that I see routinely is patients continuing to live their lives a certain way when it is negatively impacting their healing.
Lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption and smoking can significantly impact the healing process after joint replacement surgery. It’s crucial to understand how these habits can affect your ability to recover, potentially slowing down the healing process and increasing the risk of complications.
Both smoking and excessive alcohol use can impair blood flow and reduce the body’s ability to repair tissue, making it harder for your new joint to heal properly.
Choosing the right footwear is an often overlooked aspect of recovery after knee replacement, or similarly traumatic procedure. Supportive shoes help to maintain balance and stability, which prevents undue strain on your healing joint.
They are like a supportive chain, linking your body’s alignment from the ground up and ensuring that each step you take is aiding rather than hindering your recovery. Wearing the wrong type of shoes can lead to discomfort and potentially set back your recovery.
25. Goal Setting
Setting achievable and realistic goals is an integral part of maintaining momentum during your recovery from joint replacement surgery. Goals help you track your progress, stay motivated, and provide a sense of accomplishment.
It’s important to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – as they provide a clear roadmap for your recovery. These goals should not only be attainable but also tailored to your individual progress and abilities.
By focusing on SMART goals, you can ensure that each milestone you set is both encouraging and conducive to your overall healing. Celebrate the small wins because as they stack up, so will your progress, even if it is as simple as completing your home exercises.
Recovery from a knee replacement is a process that requires patience, reminiscent of the steady rhythm in Vanilla Ice’s music (cue “Play That Funky Music”, and you thought he was a one-hit wonder).
It’s important to remember that healing doesn’t happen overnight and that each person’s recovery timeline is unique. Patience is especially important during daily activities, such as navigating the bathroom or other areas of your home, where you might feel tempted to rush back to normalcy.
27. Mental and Emotional Health
One thing that became acutely apparent to me during my time as a patient going through knee injuries and surgeries is the impact it had on my emotional well-being.
Recovering from knee surgery isn’t just a physical process; it has significant mental and emotional aspects as well. Coping with the changes in mobility, daily routines, and roles can impact your self-identity and self-esteem.
It’s essential to acknowledge and address these emotional challenges to address these issues. This aspect of healing is just as important as the physical, and many times it is much more difficult to overcome.
This is why I wrote my book Torn, on how psychological flexibility changed my life after a series of events (beginning with my second ACL tear) that almost ended my life.
The first step to really cultivating a psychologically flexible demeanor is sitting with your difficult feelings, which is something we all hate to do, but it is necessary. I have found that journaling on these difficult feelings is very transformative and can lead you in the right direction if channeled appropriately.
28. Relaxation Techniques
Incorporating relaxation techniques into your recovery routine can be highly beneficial, especially methods like progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves gradually tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups, which can help reduce overall tension and stress in the body. This is particularly useful after a knee replacement, where managing pain and discomfort is important for healing and has shown to be beneficial.
Progressive muscle relaxation not only aids in physical recovery but also promotes mental and emotional well-being, helping you stay calm and focused during your recovery. Other similar techniques can also be used like visual imagery and mindfulness.
The advancement of medical technology, particularly in the realm of wearable devices, has opened new avenues for managing and monitoring recovery after joint replacement surgery.
These wearables can provide real-time feedback on your physical activities, helping you track your progress and make informed decisions about your recovery regimen. This feedback is crucial as it allows for a more tailored and effective approach to rehabilitation, ensuring you’re not overexerting yourself and are on the right track to healing.
Leveraging modern medical technology, especially wearable devices, can significantly enhance your recovery process, providing you with valuable insights and guidance every step of the way.
The road to recovery from joint replacement surgery is like setting out on a personal journey, one that involves much more than just your physical well-being. It’s a path that weaves through the essentials of holistic healing, where nutrition, exercise, mental health, and even the smart use of technology become your companions.
Imagine this: You’re not just healing a joint; you’re nurturing your entire self, body, and mind. For those of you about to undergo this surgery, or if you’re the guiding light helping a loved one through their recovery, these insights and tips are your roadmap. They’re designed to deepen your understanding and enrich your approach to this unique healing process.
Think of each step not just as a move towards physical recovery, but as a stride towards a more complete, more vibrant you. This journey, with all its ups and downs, is as comprehensive as it gets, and the guidance provided here aims to light your way. Remember, in this journey of recovery, every step counts, and each one is powered by a blend of knowledge, care, and personal growth.
I hope these tips that I wish I had after my knee surgeries are helpful to you!
What is the hardest knee surgery to recover from?
Though subjective, the total knee replacement holds this title.
What are the hardest days after knee surgery?
The first 24 to 72 hours, starting as soon as your nerve block wears off.
What is the most common knee surgery?
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.