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In the hospital after knee replacement


You will stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after having knee joint replacement surgery. During that time, you will recover from your anesthesia and the surgery itself.

Right after surgery

Your surgeon may talk to family or friends right after surgery is done. But, you will spend a few hours after surgery in the recovery room before going to your room to meet your loved ones. You will likely wake up tired and groggy.

You will have a large dressing (bandage) over your incision (cut) and part of your leg. A small drainage tube may be placed during surgery to help drain blood that collects in your knee joint after surgery.

Back in your room

You will have an IV (a tube that is inserted into a vein, usually in your arm). You will receive fluids through the IV until you are able to drink on your own. You will slowly resume a normal diet.

You may have a Foley catheter inserted into your bladder to drain urine. Usually it is removed the day after surgery. You may have some difficulty passing your urine after the tube is removed. Make sure you tell the nurses if you feel bloated or difficulty to void.

Your nurse will show you how to prevent blood clots.

You will wear special compression stockings on your legs. These stockings improve blood flow and reduce your risk of getting blood clots. This can be uncomfortable, but they are very important for your health after the knee replacement procedure.

  • Most people will also receive blood-thinning medicine to reduce the risk of blood clots.
  • When you are in bed, flex your ankles to move your feet up and down. You will also be taught other leg exercises to do while you are in bed to prevent blood clots. It is important to do these exercises.

You may be taught how to use a device called a spirometer and do deep breathing and coughing exercises. This exercise allows you to open your lungs, which can be affected after anesthesia. Doing these exercises will help prevent pneumonia.

Your doctor will prescribe pain medicines to control your pain.

  • Everyone has pain and discomfort after surgery, but not everyone feels pain the same way.
  • You may receive pain medicine through a machine where you can control when and how much pain medicine you receive -- at least to a point. You will receive the medicine through an IV or a special tube placed into your back during surgery.

Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.

You will be encouraged to start moving and walking

You will be helped out of bed to a chair on the first day after surgery. You may even be asked to try walking.

The following people will help you learn how to get moving again and take care of yourself:

  • A physical therapist will teach you exercises and how to use a walker or crutches.
  • An occupational therapist will teach you how to safely perform daily activities.

All of this takes a lot of hard work on your part, but the effort will pay off with a faster recovery and better results.

You will be encouraged to do as much as you can for yourself by the second day. This includes going to the bathroom and taking walks in the hallways, always with someone helping you.

You will learn the proper positions for your legs and knees. Make sure you follow these instructions as bad positions can cause the new knee joint to be injured.

Getting ready to go home

You and your family should be sure to make your home ready and safe for you before you go home. Also, before you are allowed to leave the hospital, you will need to meet these goals:

  • Be able to move or transfer your body without help in and out of bed, in and out of chairs, an off and on the toilet
  • Bend your knees almost to a right angle, or 90°
  • Walk on a level surface with crutches or a walker, without help
  • Walk up some steps, with help

Some people need a short stay in a rehabilitation center after they leave the hospital and before they go home. At a rehab center, you will learn how to safely do your daily activities on your own.

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Review Date: 8/9/2018

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, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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