Osteoporosis has worn down the cartilage in your knee, making it painful to walk. Your doctor has suggested knee replacement surgery to get you back on your feet again without pain. This is what you can expect from this major surgery and your recovery from it.
Replacing the Damaged Knee Surfaces
The pain and swelling in your knee are caused by the bones rubbing against each other without the protection of the cartilage, which normally cushions them. The total knee surgery corrects this by replacing the bone surfaces with artificial components that move freely against each other without pain.
A portion of the end of your upper leg bone, the femur, is removed and a metal component is cemented into place there. The upper surface of the lower leg bone, the tibia, is removed and a metal and plastic component is cemented into place. The two components fit together like your natural knee joint to allow your knee to move normally. The artificial joint is immune to the effects of osteoarthritis, so you won't be bothered by that disease in your knee again.
After the Surgery
Once the surgery is completed, you'll go back to your hospital room. But the staff will be getting you up and out of bed in a few hours to start your recovery process. Getting your body moving increases your circulation, which is important to your healing. On the day of the surgery, you'll learn to move from your bed to a chair and back, and how to get to the bathroom and back.
The following day, you'll work with a physical therapist to learn how to walk with crutches or a walker. You'll put a little weight on your leg, but be restricted from full weight bearing for several days as the bone and soft tissues in your knee heal. Once your doctor sees that you can walk steady with crutches, you'll be sent home to start the next phase of your recovery.
Learning to Walk Again
You will be working with a physical therapist for several weeks as you slowly increase the use of your knee. The therapy will focus on two phases of recovery of your knee functionality: range of motion and strength.
Flexibility - The therapist will initially move your knee through all of its normal range of motion to slowly stretch out muscles and tendons that have become tight from lack of use. At first, your knee will feel stiff, but as the swelling of the tissues from the surgery goes away, and the muscles relax, your knee will loosen up. The therapist will also show you exercises that you'll need to do between sessions to make your knee flexible again.
Strengthening - When your knee can move smoothly through its normal range of motion, the therapist will start you on exercises to strengthen the muscles in the knee. Not only do the muscles help you to walk, they hold the knee joint together and prevent it from overextending. At this stage of recovery, you'll rely on your crutches or walker less and will put full weight on your knee.
This is also a time to be cautious in your recovery. Should you become overconfident in your abilities and push your knee beyond its limits, you can cause damage to your knee and set back your recovery time. It's important to work with your physical therapist to set a pace at which you make progress but don't put unnecessary stress on your new knee joint.