What To Expect 1 Year After Total Knee Replacement

Making the decision to undergo a total knee replacement isn’t something most people do lightly. Those living with knee pain and weighing their treatment options may want to know what to expect 1 year after total knee replacement to decide if it’s worth it. The good news is that most total knee replacements feel significantly better just months after surgery, with almost all healing complete in 1 year. 

Total Knee Replacement Surgery

An illustration of a healthy knee and a knee after total knee replacement using a prothesic joint.

Total knee replacement surgery removes damaged portions of the knee and replaces them with prosthetics. Generally, those who undergo this procedure do so because they want a better quality of life and have exhausted other treatment options.  

Total Knee Replacement Recovery 

A significant portion of recovery from total knee replacement takes place within about 3 to 4 months after surgery. Beginning a guided healing protocol immediately after joint replacement surgery is important to achieve such quick results. 

Immediately Post Surgery

Once you wake up from anesthesia, you will likely spend at least a few hours in a recovery room icing and elevating your knee. You may be prescribed pain medication and instructed to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.   

Many patients will be discharged the same day as surgery and may be surprised to find they can already walk with the help of a cane or walker. 

1st Week After Surgery

The first week after knee surgery is the hardest. Once you’re home, you’ll continue to elevate and ice your knee while taking medication as prescribed or needed. You may be told to use gentle compression via a compression bandage or stocking to help with the swelling. Most patients start physical therapy within 1 week of knee surgery

A person doing exercises with the help of a physical therapist after total knee replacement.

You should be able to move around with the help of a walker or cane. Remember, your knee will get tired, and you’ll likely want help with meal preparation, household tasks, and driving. You can get in and out of bed, go up and down stairs while holding the railing, and take short walks. Plan to walk a little every hour and elevate your leg once you return home. It may sound counterintuitive, but continual gentle movement will help with the pain and improve recovery time. 

Your knee will be swollen and may be red and bruised. It’s normal for the incision to drain a bit as it heals. If you develop a fever above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or see significant pusy discharge, call your orthopedic knee surgeon. They will also give you a list of additional symptoms to watch out for. If you’ve been prescribed blood thinners as part of your recovery, you may see increased swelling and bruising at the surgical site.

Total Knee Replacement Pain at Night 

For the first several weeks after a total knee replacement, pain may be most noticeable at night. You may want to ice your knee and take pain medication before bed, then sleep with it slightly bent and elevated. 

Some patients find the disruption to sleep after knee replacement calls for daytime naps, especially after performing total knee replacement exercises. 

1 Month After Surgery

Some people will be ready to return to work a month after surgery, depending on their vocation. You likely won’t be ready if your job requires standing or manual labor. Physical therapy exercises for a knee replacement will still be an important part of regaining strength and range of motion. You’ll likely need pain relievers periodically and get pain relief from icing and elevating your knee. 

You should still walk with a cane until about the 6-week mark, even if you feel stable and comfortable without it. Certain medical procedures, like dental work or colonoscopies, should not be performed until you’re 3 months out from surgery. 

3 Months After Total Knee Replacement

Recovery from knee replacement generally takes a big step forward around 3 to 4 months. You should be sleeping better and able to walk without assistance, but continue to use care on stairs. Those who stand at work will likely be ready to return to their jobs. Most people can start exercising again.

A doctor wearing gloves while examining a person's total knee replacement scar.

Your knee may be a bit stiff and swollen, especially after standing or sitting for extended periods. It’s normal for your knee to still feel warm, but it should not be hot or painful to touch. 

6 Months After Total Knee Replacement

Six months after a knee replacement, patients will notice most symptoms after standing or sitting for long periods. Pain, stiffness, and swelling should not be significant enough to require medication. 

What To Expect 1 Year After Total Knee Replacement 

One year post total knee replacement, most patients will be fully recovered in terms of range of motion and pain. You may have some numbness around your total knee replacement scar, which is normal due to nerves in that area having been cut. 

Your knee may make some clicking sounds, or you may feel some clicking during certain movements. This should not be painful and is simply caused by the prosthetic pieces making contact with each other. Your knee may still feel a bit stiff, sore, or warm, but that will continue to improve with time. Some movements, such as squatting, kneeling, or bending down, may feel different than before your total knee replacement. 

If you have knee pain and would like to talk to an orthopedic knee specialist about treatment options to regain your quality of life, please contact us or comment below. 

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